headline whores & wars

If you want fast & easy news: this post is about how slutty women will ultimately bring down the US.


Photo by Clu Soh on Unsplash

Yesterday I was having a discussion with some loved ones. It went something like this:

“Oh I see you’re following the March Madness bracket. Is that your predicted bracket or the results bracket?”

“I’m just keeping track of the results.”

“And I’m sure you’re doing the same for the women’s bracket.”

Eye roll.

Silence.

You see, I was all fired up because I had recently seen some news on my carefully-curated-by-a-third-party-Facebook-feed about the discrepancy between the men’s & women’s NCAA.

And by news…

I mean headlines:

NCAA apologizes for disparities between women’s and men’s facilities

NCAA budget for men’s basketball tournament almost twice as much as women’s budget

Weight rooms, swag, and the ‘March Madness’ brand: How the NCAA is shortchanging women’s basketball

Well, that was all this budding feminist needed to form her very important & verified opinion truth! #unfakenews

And so, with those same loved ones, who might have read headlines or who might have their dissertations in the topic or who might have played in a MM tourney themselves-I mean who knows these days–I began (naturally) to have a well-informed (obvious) discussion about the patriarchy in sports.

Down with the patriarchy!

And I am sure, or am I, that this conversation is multiplied over a hundred countries, a thousand dinner tables, and a million moments.

It’s like Descartes’ cogito, ergo sum 2.0: I scrolled, therefore I know.


Dave & I have this running joke about how “we read an article, well, actually [insert any amount that isn’t whole here] part of an article.” It comes from this Toyota commercial & pretty much is a staple in any of our conversations that incorporate an outside source.

But really, our household only mirrors society at large.

We are headline whores.

And then we take our newly established “truth” & head into war with the other side. We don’t talk to listen anymore. We talk to catch. We talk to prove. We talk, well, because, WE.

Talk has become war. But now, fortunately, unfortunately, oh what a tangled web we weave, we are armed with the world wide web.

And the problem with the world wide web is just that…it is world wide.

We have a world–who are we kidding: a. world. a. minute–of information at our fingertips, but really, all we do is search for justification of what we already think & arm ourselves with soundbite-swords & head into the battlefield of my right versus your/you’re wrong.

There’s a fancy term for this: confirmation bias.

The unfancy term is the Divided States of America.

Broken families.

Capital attacks.

Sigh. Error 404.


I wish we could all just be scientific.

Experiment: a choice to explore a hypothesis.

I wish we could all just be religious.

Faith: a choice to believe in some sense of a mystery–

knowing it can’t be proven.

I wish we could all just be mindful.

Curious: observing what is without judgment.

Maybe we could move our conversation-compass away from the blood-simplicity of morality to the heartbeat-stratifications of complexity.

Maybe.


Just this week I as listening to Krista Tippett interview Arlie Hochschild.

Her concepts of “deep story” & that “we are all products of our own experience” & how important it is to find “common ground” resonated with me.

As did this:

“Consider the possibility that in their situation, you might end up closer to their perspective.”

Wow.

But to consider… deep breath here… takes consideration.

It takes listening.

It takes humanity.

Let’s all be human, k?


If you made it this far, you get cookies (please accept all) (see what I did there). Cheers to reading a whole post 😉

brazilian wax poetica

I remember it very clearly. I was sitting in front of the computer while Dave sat on our blue leather couch. With my approaching December graduation date from North Central, we were discussing what comes next. What do I do as a teacher who graduates in December? It’s awkward. It’s unfavorable. It’s ill-timed.

And so, I uttered two dangerous words of adventure: what if?

What if we move to Colorado?

What if we work at a ski resort for the season?

What if we just spend a few months playing?

Those two words changed our lives. We moved to Colorado with everything we owned in a jeep. Found careers that we loved and that loved us back. Made new friends and new memories with old friends. Hosted family for holidays and vacations. Embraced the land and the lifestyle of the mountains. Became runners and yogis and cyclists. Experienced new dimensions of the Divine and new nuances of ourselves.

For the last eleven years, we have lived blessed and beautiful lives. Thank you God.

And now: what if?

Dave and I have been revisiting these very two dangerous words for a while now. Adventure calls.

What if we move?

What if it’s far?

What if it’s overseas?

What if it’s completely foreign and unlike any life we’ve ever lived?

Those two very dangerous words of what if have tumbled into two other words: I accept.

This past weekend I attended an international job fair in Boston, at which I found Graded. Before we went, I made a list of what I wanted in an overseas teaching gig: financially, personally and professionally. I pursued schools who met those criteria with a singular devotion. But in the end, or perhaps in the beginning, Graded found me.

And so, Dave and I will be taking this… freak showcircus… adventure on the road starting July 2017, at which time we will move to Sao Paulo, Brazil for a two-year contract. There are a million things to do and a million goodbyes to cry and a million freak-outs to stifle and a million questions to answer…but for now, I’ll settle into the wild-eyed lap of what if.

storytelling using mentor texts

Inevitably, every break brings time for reflection and renewal for teaching. What’s going well? What’s hurting the team? Over winter break, I found myself desperate for a reset in my classroom. Students didn’t even know each other’s names, much less stories; I was the bad guy without enough of the connection that grounds those high expectations; I was so busy trying to collaborate in an overwhelming amount of configurations that I lost my authentic teacher compass; I was buried in systematic behavior expectations that did not align with who I am…and that didn’t work. I felt like a failure…worst, I was uninspired and uninspiring.

Last semester, my colleague and friend started talking about the writing approach which consists of copying mentor texts. She’s all up in this book and talking about it all over the place. (You know, authentic and real PD…not the forced kind; rather the kind that evolves from dialogue and mutual eagerness to grow in our craft.) We implemented mentor texts with our juniors as a way to create real-life writing experiences: reviews.

Slowly these two bodies of reflection met and bowed to each other on the dance floor of my mind: how can I provide students the opportunity to share their stories and improve their writing with mentor texts? How can I create an opportunity for reset while encouraging students to write beyond the traditional (and boring) academic scope (read 5 paragraph essay).

And those two ideas danced. Beautifully and wonderfully, beyond my expectations. Here is how I approached it (some steps are modified for how I wish I would have done it):

  1. I decided on two mentor texts: Maus and Night. This would give students the ultimate choice: story-telling via prose or story-telling via art.
  2. Then I combed both texts looking for engaging prompts and mentor text sections that would elicit stories that matter from my students, the kinds of stories that bond at the heart level. Here are those prompts for Maus and Night.
  3. To begin all this, and to deepen my own connections with students, I also modeled the process, as did my student teacher. I chose for my brain dump a piece about my Mom I had published on this blog a while back. Then I altered it to mimic the mentor text. I also walked through breaking down the mentor text into moves I could mimic.
  4. Next students picked their genre and prompt followed by a rough draft. This draft is not based on the structure or style of the mentor text, but merely is a brain dump to get their stories onto the paper.
  5. Then began the analysis of the mentor texts’ approaches. This was a chance for students to be independently taught writing craft by the mentor text they selected. They were guided through this process using extensive graphic organizers. Here those are for Maus and NightOf course I shouldn’t have been surprised at how this organically produced the close and deep independent reading I’ve been trying to manufacture all year long. But that is exactly what happened. Three cheers for favorable instructional accidents!
  6. After the analysis portion, students transitioned to the remaking of their drafts into the style of their chosen genre. For some, this meant adding dialogue. For others, they rearranged paragraphs. For the artsy, they drew and divided into panels with shading and captions. No matter what, each student was nose deep in a text, looking for how to mimic it. It took a bit for them to get the hang of it, but they did!
  7. At this point, we did some peer workshopping. Secretly, the real point here was the sharing of their stories in partners to prepare them for a larger production. After all, in my head, this IS the reason for this entire writing project: community connections. All the academic benefits are bonuses. (Oops, did I say that out loud?)
  8. Then, the wondrous glory of storytelling: the sharing. I asked for feedback from students regarding which peers they felt most comfortable and uncomfortable sharing with, and then I used that data to place students into a variety of small groups. In those groups, I gave very specific directions to 1, read his/her story out loud and 2, each student was to write a note of encouragement/thank-you letter to the author after he/she shared. I provided sentence frames and colored cards. To me, these are the kinds of days I live for as a teacher. Students huddled together in small groups, sharing secrets of the heart, spinning webs of connection that are strong and trustworthy, a web upon which we build more learning and more connection. A web which catches the light.
  9. Finally, students self-graded using a narrative rubric based on CCSS. In the future, I will do a better job explicitly teaching these elements, because though they were inherent in the works the students produced, the students themselves did not have the language to self-evaluate with specifics.

The pieces the students turned in were breathtaking both in craft and content. Were there grammar errors? Of course…but honestly, who cared when I was seeing some of the best writing I’ve seen from students in my decade of teaching. The pieces were original and unique and authentic and individual and unfettered with the formulaic chains we so often think at-risk students need. The pieces were heart-wrenching with students exposing the dangerous truths of their lives: from gang violence to domestic abuse to homelessness to murder to drugs to suicide to anxiety to sexual assault to the grief of too many orphaned children. I was not reading papers; I was reading souls.

But THE most beautiful moment in this project came the day we shared our stories in small groups. Throughout the day, I roamed to different groups to pop in on students’ stories and leave them a note from my heart to theirs. In one group of two boys and two girls, one of my most difficult and often disengaged boys began sharing his story. As he worked his way through it, it was evident his exterior was cracking. His pace slowed; his face tightened; his eyes moistened; his words chocked. He collapsed into himself, a heaving pile of grief, shattered by bullets past. Literally. His peer, the other boy in the group, silently got up from his seat, walked around the table, knelt beside him, rubbed his back, and just stayed…a steady, silent, comforting rock. It was a moment so beautiful, so raw, I nearly lost my breath.

Who am I kidding? I did.

And things have been better with that student. Not perfect. Not a miracle. But a shaky bridge has been solidified.

And that is just the kind of story I want to write with penstrokes of my career.

 

the ghost of grief past

I am haunted by grief. Like a ghost that fades in and out of the bedroom corner, sometimes it is silent, hovering beneath the floorboards; but sometimes it is devastatingly near, ice freezing through my veins.

Recently…I shiver.

Last year, I watched my cat die a long, slow death. His silky steel grey fur turned bristlecone; his oversized athletic body turned gristly; his ferocious appetite for salmon turned into aching refusal to eat; his impeccable potty and self-grooming habits turned sloppy spills all over the house. The cat who walked around the block with us could no longer hop up on our bed. He wandered the house, unsure of where he was, crying in confusion. Life oozed out of him, leaving a trail of tears.

Six years ago, I watched my Dad die a long, slow death. His consistent commitment to a healthy breakfast of Total cereal faded into choking on undigested food; his appetite for walks in the neighborhood faded to police rides back to a home he could no longer remember; his strong able body faded into a bony skeleton; his obsessive daily grooming with an electric razor faded into a unoccupied man playing with his feces. The man who drove my teenage self all over creation could no longer remember my name. He wandered the house, unsure of where he was, looking and laughing at a stranger’s reflection in the mirror. Life oozed out of him, leaving a trail of fears.

I am haunted by the molasses pace of death, its grief sticky and icky.

This year, I watched my dog disappear in the blink of an eye. Just the weekend before, we were camping and hiking and playing in alpine lakes with his girlfriend. He was strong. Full of life. Then, sickness. Then, death. My house is empty.

Three years ago, I watched my Mom disappear in the blink of an eye. Just the weekend before, we were laughing and buffeting and playing the slots with the family. She was strong. Full of life. Then, sickness. Then, death. My heart is empty.

I am haunted by the wind-sucking swiftness of death, its grief whiplash and heartcrash.

I am haunted.1690184_10152245507652813_202266945_n

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here’s to the dog

Here’s to the dog who transformed from a scared, skinny, reserved mess into a brave, athletic, playful son. When we first met you at the pound, we took you into the yard to see how you’d interact with us. As Dad threw a ball, rather than fetching, you cowered, trying desperately to disappear into yourself.  Our hearts broke at the invisible story that brought you to such a sad place. For years, we didn’t think you had a voice at all. Maybe your box had been removed? Dad would give me such shit for trying to teach you to speak. But you learned, didn’t you. You found your voice and the courage to use it to protect us, to laugh with us, to tell us you were there, to tell us you were hungry. Our hearts applauded your self-discovery. We knew you came into your own when we’d let you loose on at the local park, and you would run like a freak. Unabashed. Insanely. Comically. Gleefully. Our hearts celebrated at the freedom you finally felt in love.

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Here’s to the dog who transformed us into ninjas in the morning. As our bodies eased out of deep slumber, we’d stealthily adjust in the bed so as not to awaken your bladder. Our even worst was when our bladders were awake. We’d lie there in pain, just so we didn’t give you the false impression that our day was, indeed, actually starting. Or sometimes, you went into the ninja business with one of us. So as not to awaken the other parent, one of us would coax you out of the bedroom as sneakingly as possible. But alas, your hummingbird tail always drummed the bed, the walls, the door, our souls: the imperfect perfect alarm clock.

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Here’s to the dog who was my dancing companion. You know as well I do, Momma don’t clean without some good music. And so there I’d be in the living room, blasting Rihanna or Britney Spears or Juanes, and well of course my feet and hips would catch on. And so would yours. You’d look at me from your bed, then your tail would mark time, then you’d raise to your feet and bow your chest to the ground, then you’d come to me, then I’d pat my chest, and what do you know, I’m in my living room dancing with a four-legged companion, upright on your hind quarters, paws on my shoulders, mouth panting in rhythmed ecstasy.

1930457_33430112812_8591_n 1919160_192461262812_7397308_n 38418_439971082812_4160013_n 73041_492507727812_2398029_n 73694_492508172812_1248683_n 261853_10150308992172813_6826574_n 425146_10150641017682813_1306980350_n 1044143_10151737797722813_1331969970_nHere’s to the dog who never met a rock you didn’t conquer. No matter what trail, what state, what adventure, the nearest rock would eventually become your throne as you explored it and scratchily fell off it and climbed atop again and eventually planted your paws like Armstrong on the moon, standing tall and regal, tail in the wind like a flag’s declaration, surveying the conquest.

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Here’s to the dog who was just the goofiest kid who just wanted desperately to be liked by his peers. You hated water until you saw one of the cool kids running around in it. You didn’t understand fetch until you saw another dog doing it, then you tried out for the team but didn’t make the cut. Oh, you’ll eat a treat because that dog ate a treat. You loved to stick your nose in anything, even when you found it being exploded back into your face by a sneeze. You playfully wrestled with the ground. You looked like you were seizing when you tried to roll over on command.

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Here’s to the dog who was loved by all those we loved. You were the calm dog everyone felt comfortable being around. You protected the Doyle girls like they were your own. Your were gentle with my aging parents. You let puppies have their space (we’ll pretend this was your honor, instead of the fact that you were petrified by them). You cradled yourself into our families and into our friendships. You were our son, and everybody knew it. And they loved you.

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Here’s to the dog who loved his brother beautifully. You’d fight, and then you’d paw and makeup. You’d share your toys and your treats and your bed. You kept on eye on him when he walked around the block with us. You were compassionate and kind to him as he aged, and then as he died, and then, you stood steady for us our in grief.

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Here’s to the dog who was your Dad’s favorite. When you’d piss me off, he’d defend you. When I didn’t want to get fur bombed, he’d gather you between his legs and pet you. When I looked and looked and looked, he’d go right for that perfect spot around your ears that made you smile like a druggie. You were his dog, and he was your idol.

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Here’s to the dog who was the soul mate for our lifestyle. When we ran, you ran. When we hiked, you hiked. When we camped, you camped. When we melded into the TV, you slept in your bed. When we took road trips, you curled up in the back seat. When we took naps, you snored. When we lounged outside, you curled up in the grass. When we ate, you waited at our feet. When adventure called, you sat politely while we put on your collar. When home beckoned, you greeted us at the door with that one of a kind hip wiggle of yours.

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Here’s to the dog who made our life complete. Here’s to the dog whom we miss with all of the broken pieces of our heart. May you run, smile, rest, and wag in peace.

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training the monkey… the mind that is

(Author’s note: I really wanted to title this post “Spanking the Monkey,” but I didn’t want some perverts to open this post thinking it was going to be up their alley.)

(Pervert’s note: That’s what she said.)

phonto

Buddha often spoke of the need to train the monkey mind through meditation and mindfulness. His intention was that our life would be less about narration and commentary and more about the presence and experience itself.

To me, the idea of minimizing narration and commentary and analysis and story is quite daunting–and perhaps even backwards. After all, I am an English teacher: I live and love stories. To explore this conundrum (and generally solve all of the universe’s mysteries), I was fortunate enough to garner a fellowship to participate in the Mindfulness in Education Retreat at Vallecitos. (Thank you Hemera!)

While there, meditating for about a quarter of every day (insert shocked emoji face here), I gained a few treasured training tools to get that monkey mind to sit and stay:

  1. It’s a muscle…or a puppy. I like to do things well. I don’t like to struggle. There’s a small chance I might be addicted to perfection and the illusion of what it does for my soul. So naturally upon arrival and discovering we were going to meditate for six. hours. every. day. I just knew I had to nail it. I didn’t. I had unrealistic expectations of instant-6-pack-upon-entering-the-gym-after-keg-magically-disappears, or miracle-puppy-who-falls-out-of-mom-rolling-over-on-command. Cuz that happens. Like anything else, being present in the moment with mental chatter under control takes time. Takes discipline. Takes training. Takes constant attention and reattention and rereattention and rerereattention (or attention to the 3rd?).
  2. Tone matters. But therein lies the rub: it’s not just about the training; it’s about how I train. I naturally fell into this kind of cruel, self-abusive narrative progression when my mind would wander: “Be here now.” “Just get it together.” “Ugh again, come back.” “Why can’t you just be here?!” “Damn it Patrice!” At the height of my frustration, I considered myself a failure who could never get it right… you know, after meditating for oh…3 minutes. Mindfulness is a constant redirecting of attention, but that does not warrant a scream or a flog or a deep sigh of frustration. I found the mantra of “there is room for that, too” to bring me back again and again with kindness and compassion and grace.
  3. Interruptions versus experience. Before this retreat, meditation meant to me all the right conditions. I want people quiet. I deserve to be comfortable. I need to be in the mood. I seek out perfection, both inside and outside of me. Then, once the stars have aligned, I can meditate. What I learned at this retreat is that noise is a part of the meditation, not an interruption. Discomfort a part, not an interruption. Chaos a part, not an interruption. Instead of seeking the perfect external context, I need to be internally present in whatever is occurring–however annoying.
  4. The power of narrative. But what is annoying, exactly? One night while sitting in meditation with my nose running; eyes itching; throat tickling; sneeze building; tissues missing, I thought: “this is miserable.” But I checked myself before I wrecked myself. Is it? What is misery? These are the physical sensations, and they just…are. It is my narrative and commentary that creates the bias of misery. Even deeper, why does it do that? I realized I’m still realizing that mental narrative is the last stronghold of control chimera of control. I think by naming I have power. I think by describing I have hold. But…I don’t.
  5. Escape mechanisms. Which leads me to the biggest aha of this retreat: when I feel like I am failing, I want to escape. This should come as no surprise after my year failing as an instructional coach, but alas…this lesson was only more pronounced when I could not escape “failed” meditation. Instead it went on and on and on. (I mean at home, I’d be blissfully ignorant on Facebook or delightfully numb playing Angry Birds or completely tuned off with the TV on. Oh the wonderfully destructive avoidance technology allots.) But I did learn even in those moments when meditation lingered and I could not physically leave, there are a lot of ways to mentally escape: sleepiness, haziness, mental chatter, restlessness, distraction, planning, discomfort, judging (about me), gossip (about others). Unfortunately, where there is a will, there is a way (to get out). I learned that when I feel like escaping, I need to examine the urge: what I am afraid of? what exactly is failure? what am I avoiding? Sitting with the urges (does anyone else have to go tot the bathroom now?), rather than running from them, is the challenge but also the reward of mindfulness.
  6. Size matters. Before this retreat, I was narrow-minded. Who am I kidding, I still am. But I’ve come to a thought-place that is more spacious, more wide, more welcoming, more soft, more generous…more. There is room for that, too. Mindful meditation can–and should–include the distraction, the clanging pots, the escape tendencies, the judgment, the narrative, the cramp in my foot, the constant need for approval, the desire to be seen, the pervasive sense that I am not good enough, the unanswered questions, the buzzing fly. There is room for that, too.
  7. Pattern trumps pieces. At most retreats, I make sweeping plans to come home and be brand spanking new. But what I carried away this time is that a little each day makes more difference than grand gestures occasionally. And so I am committing to 12 minutes of meditation a day. I can do that. I want to do that. I will do that. And if it doesn’t happen, well, there is room for that, too.

 

on energy: weapons of mass destruction

I recognize that the minute the word energy enters a conversation, visceral reactions will rise: images of granola-eating-gurus, feelings of heebie jeebies, and slippery concepts like “consciousness” and “law of attraction” and “universe.”

I used to be that person.

Maybe I still I am that person.

But…as I find myself changing the way I view myself and the world around me and the God above (?) me, I cannot help but come back to that word: energy.

I have always believed in the power of language, but that confidence is grounded in the inadequacies of language to fully capture that which matters. When I say I love Dave, that word doesn’t capture the beautiful complexity inherent in our 14 years of marriage. When I used the term Daddy, that did not fully capture all my dad was as a man, husband, and father. And this disconnect between term and essence is all over our current headlines: how can tiny little pronouns like he or she really capture all that is in a full person?

And how much more so with God. How can God be bound by gender? How can God be bound by place? How can God be bound by belief? How can God be neatly wrapped up in letters and bow-tied with punctuation?

He can’t. She can’t. It can’t. I Am can’t.

I Am won’t.

And this is why I come back to energy. In science I learn it. In yoga I feel it. I life I live it.

God is the Epicenter and Origin and Destination of Energy.

And this profound thought intensifies with the knowledge that I am created likewise. There is a weight to what energy I put into the world. There is gravity to what energy we put into the world.

Which brings me to Orlando.

Reflected in the mirrored pieces of our shattered humanity, I recognize that Orlando did not occur because of guns or ISIS or insanity.

Rather the energy of hate compounded into senseless tragedy.  At Pulse nightclub, it was catastrophic. 49 lives lost on the bloody altar of hate. Ripples of mourning and loss and sorrow extend infinitely beyond that number.

But the energy of hate that led to that wasn’t singular. The hate between political parties. The hate among forms of Christianity. The hate between genders. The hate among sexual preferences. From gun owners to gun shunners, Southern “bless their hearts” to pulpit declarations of “for the Lord.”

Body-shaming. Mother-shaming. Zoo-shaming. Teacher-shaming. Sex-shaming.

Hate is rampant in our culture. And the worst part of it is that so many of us are self-justified in our hate.

I think about the little seeds of hate in my heart:

  • Lack of grace and patience for people not like me.
  • Bitterness and anger against those that have hurt me this year.
  • The refusal to boldly declare “I forgive you” to Dave’s apologies.
  • My acute anti-Trump, anti-Republican position.
  • My snap judgments of people, criticisms drenched in arrogance.
  • Internal eye-rolling at parents who let their kids out of their sight or annoying tourists on their phones.

Would I ever take a gun into a nightclub and decimate lives worthy of love?

No.

But aren’t my little seeds of hate invisible bullets of energy that slowly corrode peace?

Yes.

When I heard about Orlando, we were enjoying all the sunny delights of Cancun. But even there, I could not stop thinking about the short book of 1 John:

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light…Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer…love is from God…God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him…If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen…

Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer.

Not literally. At least not for everyone. But hate is an energy that threatens life and light and peace and hope and unity.

Hate turns “my brother” into “the other.” And living in a world of “the other” frees up warrant to hurt with weapons of mass destruction: energy. And as with the law of inertia, once energy is moving towards negativity, it will continue to do so.

Right into a nightclub of innocent victims.

And so I come back to this idea of making peace, not just praying for peace. What I do in the privacy of my own heart and home affects not only those nearest to me, but also the world. With what energy am I engaging? How do I close down my own mind’s gun shop, stacked with invisible bullets of hate?

Hate stops with me and my energy adjustments.

Love starts with me and my energy contributions.

Can you imagine a world full of individuals who did not just tweet condolences, but changed mindsets? A world bound by conversation instead of criticism? A world networked by threads of questions rather than accusations? A world rooted in common ground rather than straddling fault lines? A world of “and” instead of “versus”?

Hate stops with you and your energy adjustments.

Love starts with you and your energy contributions.


 

 

 

 

roaring chickens: how I found my voice

One of my Mom’s many stories was about how she kicked the bucket…literally:

I had a job stacking pails coming off a paint line. One of my bosses came in and told me to stack them one way, and so I did. Well, then, my other boss came in and told me to stack them a different way. So I did. Then the first boss came back in and asked: “Why are you stacking ’em this way and not the way I told you to?” Well, I’ll tell you what I did. I kicked those pails all over the place and turned to them and said: “When you two get your shit together, come and get me. I’ll be in the break room.”

This story can be filed under the motto of my Mom’s life of strength and fire:

You picked the wrong damned chicken to mess with!

For most of my life, I’ve been the perfect chicken to mess with. Being the youngest in the family, I fell naturally into the role of making peace. I didn’t want tension or drama at any cost, and so in my naivety, I’d be the go-between, trying to make all parties feel better. In my past jobs, I rarely spoke up, letting people run over me rather than dealing with the ramifications of protest. For my first years as an educator, I struggled in the middle-ground of blatant wrongdoings against our students and staff while wanting to keep my job. I was a woman whose voice burned within me, but sadly, never manifested externally.

During many of my conversations with my Mom, I was haunted by her persistent call to courage:

Mary, you can’t just let people run all over you.

Her deathbed words to me (though not on her deathbed, but on the owl-light-lit porch, in the darkness of night) were:

Mary, be strong.

Her conviction and her challenge have been planted in my deepest parts since she died in September of 2013. Slowly, painfully, the seeds have cracked open under the dirt of my grief, broken through the shattered pieces of my heart, and have reached toward the warm sun of her legacy. There, they bloom, while the birds’ songs harmonize with my own resurrected voice.

In this expansive field of flowers, I see and hear my Mom within me. I have cut toxic people out of my life. I have learned to declare and honor my protective no’s and my worthy yes’s. I say what needs to be said, shooting through the heart of the elephant in the room. I ask hard questions instead of making easy assumptions. I openly admit my faults but do not minimize my strengths. I talk to people instead of about them. I am the microphone for the voiceless. I foster discomfort, assured of the future benefits. I feel good in my skin, knowing I am Created. I have found my voice; I have rightfully claimed my voice.

For much of 2014, Katy Perry’s “Roar” would come on the radio…and it felt like my Mom was singing to me, reminding me of her strength and fire. This was my song, my anthem, of a life spent hiding, then finding my voice; like mother, like daughter; the wrong damn chickens to mess with.


This post was inspired by Synchroblog’s January prompt. Follow these yellow-brick-links to other ponderings!

the soul’s greatest threat: ADD

This little disease epidemic is popping up everywhere. In disgruntled hearts. In ungrateful mouths. In slanderous conversations. In the broken public education system. Beneath the broken hearts of Christians.  On job (dis)satisfaction surveys. At restaurants. In my soul.

ADD: Attentive to Deficit Disorder.

I first learned about ADD–though not known by that name yet, well, because I didn’t invent it yet :)–when getting my Master’s in Cultural and Linguistic Diversity in Education. For students in our system who are emerging bilinguals, it is common to focus on what they lack (a foundation in English, parents who speak English, comfort navigating the American schooling principles, background knowledge, etc) rather than what they offer (flexible cognition, tenacity, diversity, varied background knowledge, a 21st century skill, etc). This deficit lens immediately and perpetually harms their potential–both for heart and mind learning in the classroom.

But ADD reaches into the adult hallways as well. Lingering in the air of my school lately is a heavy tension surrounding feedback. Teachers–me included–feel like there shouldn’t always have to be a next step. Can we just celebrate the good that’s going on in our classrooms? Just once? Of course, this stifling air is pouring in from beyond the walls of our building–a critical society of politicians and businessmen who in their ADD see fit to criticize our profession and demean our judgment. (Can I get a next step for them!?)

I saw and felt ADD in my Mom too. No matter what my Dad did, it wasn’t enough for her. No one at work could live up to her standards. We, her kids, strained to breath in the shadow of her martyrdom-to-negativity, encapsulated by her rally cry: “When it rains, it pours.”

Until she got breast cancer. The disease stopped her in her tracks, rewrote her map, and rerouted her direction. Did she become perfect? No, but her rally cry changed to “Well, I can’t complain; I’ve been blessed.” This will forever be one of the traits I admire most in my Mom: what should have proved to her that “when it rains, it pours” became a transition into a heart and life of thanksgiving. Even when she got cancer again, and then again, she declared her life as blessed.

Her prescription for ADD? Gratitude.

And this is without her earmarking The Secret or subscribing to “The Law of Attraction” or reading Ernest Holmes, who writes in This Thing Called You:

The barriers between you and your greater good are not barriers in themselves. They are things of thoughts. It is because of this that all things are possible to faith. Jesus summed up the whole proposition when he said, “It is done unto you as you believe.” In interpreting this saying, however, you must pause after the word as. Think about its meaning and you will discover that he was saying that life not only responds to your belief, it responds after the manner of your believing, as you believe. It is like a mirror reflecting the image of your belief.

As you believe.

Without using such succinct language, I’ve long pondered this with those closest to me. We’ve witnessed people in our lives with ADD: they never see good; they’re always complaining; their smiles are never deep; every good story has a “but” or an “if;” they seek commiseration from those around them; they are martyrs; they complain without changing; their conversations are tainted with passive-aggressiveness; they tear others down so they can feel better about their lives; they always play the victim but then conclude, deep-sighing “but, I’m okay.”

And as they believe, they just can’t catch a break, the sh** just keeps hitting the fan, spinning wildly above their heads on high, splintering the crap into tiny germs of toxic thinking that attracts more toxicity.

As they believe.

As you believe.

As I believe. This could be me. On my worst days, it is me, suffering from and for ADD. But I refuse to stay in this minefield-mindplace.

And just like my Mom learned and lived, I take my ADD medicine: gratitude.

My prescription as of late involves the delicious and divine words of of Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts:

IMG_3957

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At the deepest diagnostic level of ADD is the distinction made by Tim O’Brien between the happening-truth and the story-truth. The events in my life are the truth, the happening-truth, the facts. But how I view them, how I count them and name them and interpret them, that’s the story-truth. Regardless of the events, I can tell the story however I want. I have that power, that choice, that authorship. Do I tell my story slanted with sorrow, burdened by ADD’s symptoms? Or do I tell my story, sanctified by sincere gratitude?

My Mom died last year. That is the happening-truth. But how do I tell that story? My Mom died too suddenly and how dare God do that?! or My Mom got what she wished, to end her life with her dignity in tact, dependent on no one, so thank you God! I choose the latter. Thank you. Again and again I choose the latter. Thank you. I refuse to succumb to the powerful hold of ADD.

My story-truths will be of gratitude, of thanksgiving, of blessing, as I believe.

Disclaimer: It would be negligent of me to conclude without a warning about the side-effects of ADD’s treatment plan of thanksgiving: DDD– denial of deficit disorder. There is a subtle but significant difference between positivity and faithfulness, between denial and gratitude. Positivity and denial leave a person consumed with “having to be happy” regardless of the happening-truth. They painfully push on (of course never on the surface, where there is always a smile) without the deep reflection and story-telling necessary to treat ADD. On the other hand, faithful and grateful people understand the severity of their happening-truths, while still instead scripting a story-truth of thanksgiving.

Guest Blog: The Husband’s Gratitude

So Mary asked me to write a guest blog. While I’m still not totally sure what that is, or that I can live up to the standard of a typical “Life in the Dport” post, here goes.

Like many others recently, I’ve been reflecting on gratitude and what it means in my life. While it’s easy to rattle off a top ten list that can look much like I just pulled it from Pinterest,thankful list I wanted to get a little deeper.

  • I’m thankful that I won the lottery. Not Powerball, mind you, (there’s always next year) but the social lottery. I was born a man, into a white middle class American family. Think about that for a minute, really let that sink in. Though I did nothing, I already had more of a chance to succeed in life because of those three things. White. Middle Class. Male. I never had to walk into a job interview and be immediately dismissed because I didn’t “look the part.” I’ve never had to worry about having the neighbors call the cops or being stopped by the police because I was in a new neighborhood or worse yet, committed the cardinal sin of running. I didn’t even earn my citizenship; it was bestowed on me simply…because.
  • I have clean water to drink and it’s only a few steps away. My mother-in-law had to fetch water from the creek, and that was after World War II. I also have incredibly easy access to food. So easy that I consumed more today than some kids may in a week.
  • I have a job. Because I live in a 1st world country, this implies many things. I don’t have to spend all day looking for food for myself and my family. Our society has advanced to a point that we have time for art, sports, hanging out and taking naps. I have disposable income and time to enjoy those things. Thanks to all the folks who sacrificed and fought the system, not only do I have a job, I earn at least a minimum wage and am compensated for all my hours worked.
  • I’m thankful for all of the bad crap that has happened to me. This one is a little hard to swallow. Everything that has happened in my life has shaped me. Everything, not just what I choose to view as the good stuff. In fact, sometimes it’s really only the meaning we assign to something that makes it “good” or “bad.” For several years I was part of a church that had some fairly toxic practices. When I left, I was bitter and had a hard time dealing with it. I felt like it was one of the worst things that ever happened to me, a waste of several years of my life. But, I also met an amazing woman and convinced her to marry me. This church also helped shape my worldview and view on spirituality (sometimes you need to see how subtle control and intolerance can be close up to really open your eyes). So was this the best thing or the worst thing that ever happened to me? It can’t be both. In reality it’s neither…the situation was the situation. The only meaning it has is what I give it, just like all of the other “bad” crap that has happened. I am thankful I do not have to allow it power over me.
  • I am thankful for the relationships I have had in my life. They have all helped make me who I am: my work ethic, my love of books and music, my tolerance and loyalty. Some of them I have known all my life, some for only one conversation but regardless, all have changed me and I am forever grateful.
  • As my parting gratitude, I’m also thankful for my dog Spooner; if only I could be half the person he believes me to be.

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