March 26, 2012 – Broken box

Every year on my birthday I take some time to reflect on my life and where I am compared to where I want to be.  More importantly who I am and is this who I wanted to be.  This dates back to junior high.   Five hours or more at the park or the beach with a root beer and a lemon lollipop and my knife so I can whittle little shapes out of wood and I am happy.  Six categories were used to measure my progress in life.  In 8th grade it read like this:  health, wealth, school, friends, family, boys.  In high school I changed “boys” to “guys” and then when I was questioning my sexuality it became “romance” or “love.”  Some of these categories overlap.  School is still school but from a work perspective.  I’ve become more of a producer rather than a consumer.  At least I want to believe that.

Where I usually get hung up is on the health.  And that actually can be divided into mental, physical and spiritual health.  But what I have realized this year is that the lines are not so clearly drawn.  I am always, always, unhappy with how much I weigh.  That’s one constant in my reflection.  I look at my physical health and my appearance and celebrate or become despondent on things like my hair, skin, nails, unshaved legs, etc…  I have no apology for feeling better when I take care of myself.   Eating right makes me feel good.  Working out makes me feel empowered.  I have been improving in these areas that contribute to my overall health and well being.  Fruits, veggies and water have all been increased.  10 vitamin pills per day plus flossing, anti-flouride mouthwash and moisturizer (albeit not religiously) are all part of my healthier habits.

But here’s the real epiphany.  My progress as a human being has nothing to do with this temporal condition of a body.  I finally feel like I am becoming who I really am, who I was meant to be all this time.  I don’t know if it’s an improved state of spirituality, absence of hormones (read menopause) or a more level state of existence (read anti-depressants), but I feel like I have an inner peace.  I am becoming more patient and understanding, not as judgmental, more calm.  On some levels I have achieved an inner stillness.  I feel like I am a better teacher than before.  My approach this year is completely different – more project-based learning, more student-centered lessons, more choice, authenticity of  purpose, collaboration and incorporating technology.  It seems the learning I am witnessing is real as opposed to the empty “dancing to the song of the puppet master” with me being the puppet master.  Many of  the kids own their learning.

I have learned you can’t control anyone but yourself and even with that you have your hands full.  (See comment about weight loss above.)

It may sound hinky but everything happens for a reason and you can’t control what happens but you can control your reaction to what happens.

I am not my weight or my bank account or the veins in my legs or my not-so-white teeth.  Or my bad skin or my feet that I used to be so proud of but now I am getting a bunion and the second toe on each foot is curling into a hammer position.  That’s okay, it’s not me.

Here’s who I am:  I am my choices.  Possibly I am the relationships in my life at least the part for which I am responsible.  I am how much I give in terms of money and time and volunteerism and sacrifice and raising awareness.  I measure how much I encourage others (especially students) to fully become who they are and to realize their full potential.   I can measure my love and forgiveness and acceptance of people.  I can measure myself by patience and determination.

I have gone from wanting to save the world at 17, to thinking I could just save a region, or a school, or a community but have realized I can’t even save my immediate circle in the center of which is me who I definitely have been unable to save.

What I may have learned is that true growth is something I will continue to work towards and that in realizing my limits I better realize my potential.  I love when people say they are thinking or acting “outside the box.”  The fact that you believe a box even exists means you are a prisoner of it.

(And no, Mom, this doesn’t mean I am going to stop going to the gym.)

Need a better wrap up for this.









March 21, 2012 – “What? You think I’m angry? Does that mean you think I’m angry?” (props to Dar Williams for title)

Did you ever watch kids with a pinata?  It’s pretty interesting.  You can tell a lot about a kid by the way they handle a pinata and the ensuing explosion of candy.  Some kids will take that bat and despite being spun silly, will swing wildly in every direction trying to connect with something.

They want not just to get the candy but to be the hero that will be talked about for tens of birthday parties to come.  “See her, right there?  That’s Maddie.  You know, Maddie, the one who beat the hell out of that poor Dora the Explorer last year?   Every party we’ve been to since, I don’t even bother to have my Jacob line up if there’s a pinata.  I don’t want him to look stupid and if someone else will do all the work, what do I care as long as he gets the candy?  I just position him so a good chunk of the trajectory of candy will fly in his direction.  He’s got asthma, you know, so I don’t want him to over exert.”

There are the kids who are calculating.  They try to get their bearings before swinging.  They plan, they measure, they adjust. They are smart about trial and error and listening to the voices of the observers whether they indicate “Ohhh,” meaning how close or laughing because the attacker is chopping at someone’s grandma who just came out of the ladies room.

Then there are the cheaters.  There are always those bottom-feeders.

You can tell what type of a person the kid is going to become by the way he approaches a pinata.

And the parents.  That’s probably the most telling element of all.  Some of the fathers are clearly pinata engineers and give their kids all of this advice on height and swing angle and others are dropping a shoulder and scrambling on the floor to make sure their little oompa loompas get their fair share.  Or maybe not so fair.  I mean if you’re sitting in a chair crying about how no one let you have any and you saw that tootsie roll first and now it’s squashed flat…..Stop being such a pussy.

This isn’t how life works, kid.  It’s just like education.  It’s hanging right in front of you but you actually have to work to get it.  Dora is not going to female ejaculate her Smarties of knowledge and Blow Pops of skills all over you as you stand there diddling yourself.  And your parents can scrabble around like crabs but how humiliating is that?  You’re such an infant that your parents want you spoon fed that which everyone else is learning to acquire on their own.

So please, Dakota, have your mother write me another email, and be sure she copies it to the principal, about how I didn’t respond to her last email.  Have her mention how upsetting it was that I instead spoke to you about where you thought you needed help. Crazy talk, I know.   It’s important that she continue to ask me the same questions over and over again and pretend I haven’t answered them, patiently, every single fucking time.  I understand how it’s a mystery to everyone in the family about how to construct an intelligent paragraph.  After all, I’ve been the recipient of these rambling epistles via email.

Of course I will act surprised when she shows up tomorrow for a conference I didn’t agree to so we can all just shake our heads in frustration about what a dilemma this is, just to get you to learn.  I mean for Christ’s sake, she’s done everything for you including suck you off.  This she admits proudly.

If nothing else, please understand that the less you do, the more I am supposed to do.

March 12, 2012 – Ripples

My grandmother was born 104 years ago today.  She was a quiet unassuming Christian woman.  Her faith was devout, her spirit strong.  She was the youngest of three children, at least those who survived.

I have certain memories of her that stand out.  When I was about 7, I was staying over at her apartment and I remember she was in my grandfather’s red recliner.  She asked how upset I would be if there was no Santa.  I always felt like an adult, so I tried not to react.  I suspected as much, since once the Tooth Fairy and Easter Bunny, equally preposterous ideas, fell, the next domino to fall was Santa.  Besides we didn’t have a chimney.  What frightened me most was why she was telling me this.

“What if your mom and dad didn’t have enough money to pay Santa this year?” she inquired gently.

I think I said something like, “That would be okay, I guess.”  I really don’t remember what I said exactly just feeling a little like I’d been kicked in the stomach.

I never told anyone what she said to me.  It would ruin it for everybody.

We used to walk through Mount Moriah, the nearby cemetery that held Betsy Ross’ remains.  Until they were relocated so visitors to Philadelphia during the bicentennial wouldn’t have to travel through such a shady neighborhood.  We’d put flowers on graves of children who had died that had nothing more than “Tommy” and “Billy” etched into the stone.  Names and the dates indicating they were children.

When I was in college I got kicked out for having no tuition.  The short version is that I used my student loan to pay for the fall semester and was to apply grant money that was held up to the spring tuition bill.  My father’s employer, his oldest brother, never came through with the financial statements so I lost the grants.  Thereby not being able to pay for tuition.  Thereby erasing that semester.  Since I technically had not been going to school that semester, I would have to start repaying my students loans.  I worked two jobs, one full time at Media Courthouse and one thirty hours per week cleaning offices in Newtown Square.  After a few months of this, I had enough to buy a mustang (used), catch up with my loan repayments and make a down payment for the fall semester.  Lo and behold the following spring I was out of money again and needed $1500 or I would be kicked out again.  I put a “for sale” sign in the mustang.  I went to the woman I babysat for, she was like family.  No dice.  I asked my dad if I should go to my wealthy aunt on his side.  He said she’d never help.  She was funny about money.  I mentioned it to my grandmother.  She didn’t have a pot or a window.  She lived on $600 per month and still helped us out plus donated to the Anti-Vivisection Society and the World Wildlife Federation and the Mary Knoll Sisters.  She found the money.  Turns out she cashed in a life insurance policy.  When my aid came in I tried to pay her back and she told me just to pay $1200.  (That was all the aid I got.)  Who knew she would be the one to come to the rescue.  She had the least of everybody.

Around 27 I started to question my sexuality.  By the time I was 30 Granmom was living with my mother.  I remember lying in bed with her crying that I didn’t want to turn 30, that I was afraid.  She said, ”You don’t have to, Pet.”  That scared me even more since I thought she had wisdom and insight and that my only other choice was to die.  It turns out she was holding me back from a surprise birthday party my family and friends were having for me.

Around the same time she repeated to me a story from years earlier about a woman who struck up a conversation with on the street and as they began to walk the woman took her by the arm and they walked a ways arm in arm.  She said to me that it could have been innocent but that I should be careful because there were evil people out there.  That she could have been one of those “lesbians.”  When she said this word she said it with a soft “s”.  She shook her head and shuddered when she said it.  I left there crying but she didn’t know it since she had gone blind a few years earlier.  It made me sob that she thought me evil even though she didn’t know it.

These are just a smattering of the memories.  The day she died my sisters and I were returning from a trip to London.  I remember before we left Granmom asking about the British flag and what it looked like.  She always wanted to learn.    My middle sister had borrowed underwear from her for the trip and just assumed it was okay.  My granma told me about it sort of laughing saying, “I am a human being yet.”

I don’t feel her close to me and I don’t know why.  Sometimes she comes to me in my dreams and sometime in those dreams she is angry.  I asked my mother two days ago if she thought she was far away because she was angry I was gay.  Y mom said things are different there.  They have a higher of understanding of things now.  I still don’t know why she seems so far away.  My dad seems close.

I miss her.  She was so kind, gentle.  She worried too much and cried too easily.  Mom says I am like her in that way.

Other memories to include:  St Pat’s party when I was little.  69th street and hot dogs.  Putting her hand through the mailbox and giving us tapes of lollipops, living with her for six months, staying with her on so many vacations, how clearly I can see everything, how I could describe everything, how some of the apartment dreams are of evil, pure evil especially coming from the basement.  Painting her toenails even when she was dead.  Hamsters, her buying us things, bows and arrows, bowie knives (plastic), mattresses, winter coats, crocheting us things, teaching us things, how to make cookies, apple crisp, lemon meringue pie, how to throw a ball, how a pebble tossed in a pond causes ripples – maybe this is the title because of the ripple effect of her life on us and ours on others.  Teaching us that all people want to be appreciated and how kindness was most important of all.  How she wanted me to be a missionary until I taught in West Philly and then see wanted me out of there.  Giving her eulogy.  Where is that?  Where is that poetry about her living in darkness?   Her Uncle Pink, her Scottish grandfather she “pizened” with paste.  Working in a pencil factory.  Gerald and Howard Mowers and TB.  Angora and Hirsch Street.  Playing games with her.  Taking walks with her. Praying with her.  Staying overnight on the floor of the hospital when she fell and hit her head.

I don’t think I can do this all in one sitting.  More later.










March 4, 2012 – Letter on my pillow.

Dear, dear desperate hostess:

I think it’s time we had an assessment of where we are before I start leaving in clumps.  What exactly is the plan?  Let me guess.  A different product?  The last four in as many weeks didn’t work, so why not?  The expensive stuff should have worked, right?  For tweny-two dollars that should have bought us both some salvation, if even three ounces worth.  But that was a paste, maybe too tacky.  I looked like Martin Short’s hair in a wind storm.  We went to wax briefly. It was more a flirtation than a fling.  But that was second hand men’s travel Crew from your sister so how much could we expect of that?  Back to the beauty supply store we go, pretending to be a beautician who forgot her id.  No one has ever tried that, so I was shocked when that plan failed.  I think I stood a little on end.  Even with your nonchalance no big deal, I’ll remember it next time….Nothing from stone-face behind the register.

The one from the salon didn’t work.  Great brand name, everyone was impressed but me.  I was completely fascinated when you oscillated between helmet-head (tamed?  More like beat-down and broken) and electrocution.  Messy and sassy?  Really?  The headline should have read, “Deranged woman tries to avoid being institutionalized.”

Trying the cheap products has to give you some relief.  You can tell yourself that they shouldn’t work.  Curling gel?  Hair appears to be too long and only one side curls.  Curling mousse?  I thought mousse went out with the curling iron.

Now we find ourselves trying to go a little longer.  Not that I have any say in it.  Dan likes me longer.  This coming from a man with a buzz cut.  Cathy likes me shorter.  I was cute when we turned 40.  Those were the days.  That was twenty pounds ago too.  Maybe it’s your weight holding us all down.  Keep telling yourself I will respond when you  add some color again.  “How to disguise your failure for one hundred ten dollars.”  Not including the required hair product.

Weekly photo challenge – Indulge – March 3, 2012 – No regrets

So I read something recently about the top five regrets of dying people.  (Props to Huffington Post for this):

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5.  I wish that I had let myself be happier.

So in the spirit of no regrets, I have decided to work on them preemptively.  In tackling number one (the biggest one), I am a hippie.  No I don’t believe in rampant drug use but I love the idea of being mellow.  Fascinated by the idea of a commune but can’t buy into free love (for me – not judging, just saying).  Completely buy into focus on inner beauty but don’t want hairy armpits and will not stop bathing.  In terms of everything else (what’s left – music and patchouli and gauzy dresses?) I am a hippie.

I am also working on positive thinking and visualization.  I picture myself 40 pounds lighter.  Should be 60 but let’s be realistic.  I have published a book.  We are taking a road trip with six to eight of our closest friends in my VW camper to a music festival.  We are free.

That’s probably what I regret so far, not being free enough.  Every year in the yearbook, my advice to the kids is – Be you.  Be free.  What else is involved in that?  Probably living in the moment and not worrying about what people think of me.  Writing has helped me with living in the moment.  In trying to be a better writer, I pay closer attention to details.  I observe.  I actually fully listen to people.  This means I have to be living in the present.  When I drive to work, instead of worrying about what I need to do that day or stressing about what has happened the day before, I am wondering why the snow geese are flying west, I am enjoying the ride.  I am using my voice recorder function on my phone to capture all of my ponderings before they fly away.