What are you not?

What are you not is kind of a fun game I invented this weekend with the help of my not light, never inconsiderate friend Tara. The point of the game is to come up with words that someone would never use to describe you. The idea is to alternate your word choice to praise and slightly deprecate yourself.

Here are a few examples. No one would ever describe me as obsessively hygienic, but that’s really a two word phrase.  So I’ll use another example my husband came up with as I knocked over all his hockey sticks while trying to free my ski poles from the morass of sports equipment in the garage. “You are not stealthy!” he crowed, embracing the new game. “Or quiet!” he added gleefully. Now I objected to this last one a little bit, since I can be quiet on occasion, but truly it’s not a word used often to describe me.

Neither is shy.

Or uptight.

But enough about me. What are you not?

 

Climbers and danglers

Yesterday morning I woke up and the place where my arms attach to my body was extremely sore. Naturally I panicked and immediately assumed I had contracted a rare form of acute pectoral arm cancer. I’m not a hypochondriac by nature but I am a bit of an alarmist. Woody Allen does a nice job at explaining the difference here.

Just as I was envisioning my demise, I remembered that the day before at school I’d been feeling rather punchy and attempted to demonstrate my meager athletic abilities by doing a push up.  Just one.  What I succeeded in doing was a face plant into industrial carpet –which I followed with three girly half-push ups for good measure. It followed that the likely cause of my arm pain was not a rare acute disease but rather 3 and a half failed push ups. It’s not my fault that I have the upper body strength of an ostrich, the arms and shoulders of a malnourished chicken. It’s genetics. Not that I’ve done anything about it. I learned very early on that there are those people who are rope climbers (think elementary school gym class) and those of us who are rope danglers  –spending entire gym periods  with our feet just inches above the blue mats waiting for the bell to ring.

I think about this sometimes when people ask how/when I find time to write. There isn’t time. Any more than there’s time for me to build up some killer biceps and conquer that damn rope once and for all.  I guess as life gets busier you have to prioritize the things you really care about. So for the time being I’ll have to get used to the taste of industrial carpet.

Cheerleaders

Sometimes there is nothing better than a bad sports movie. I mean bad in a good way, of course.  Sometimes it’s nice to know exactly who is going to make a second half turn around and win the game.

Along those same lines, I’ve been feeling pretty good lately and I attribute it in part to cheerleaders. I’ve written before about how I can be my own worst critic. Lately I’ve been trying to be my own best cheerleader. I envision something along these lines:

snl spartan cheerleaders

I do have an admitted weakness for Will Ferrell. However, there’s just something about the Spartans; their indefatigable positivity and relentless energy that keeps me going even when I hit a bump. Bad stuff, good stuff, they cheer for all of it. It’s a good reminder that it’s important to celebrate what you can when you can. The other day I was really excited because it was Friday and I could wear jeans to work. I was standing in my closet singing, “Jeans, jeans, everything goes with jeans!” So my mid-January advice is to celebrate whatever you can, sing in your closet, cheer yourself on.

2013 Hopes for a Reasonable Year

For a variety of reasons (Mayan now excluded) 2012 has been a bit of a bear for myself and some of those close to me. We are ready for change! And frankly we deserve it. I just checked and last year I did not write a New Year’s post but I did cite a resolution to attend a writer’s conference. Check, completed in April. Maybe that’s the way to go with resolutions; few and manageable.

Sometimes I would like to resolve that the world be kinder to me and those I love. But much like trying to motivate an unmotivated middle school student to write a killer theme essay -motivation rarely comes from the outside. I suppose I’ll just have to be kinder to myself. Those who know me best are laughing and slapping their proverbial knees right now. “Ha, I’d like to see her try.” It’s true. I do not have the greatest track record for being easy on myself. But that’s why it’s called a resolution dammit!

Whatever you’re going through, whatever trials and challenges, they are made exponentially easier by being kind to yourself and taking care of yourself as you move through the rough patches. So that is my hope for myself and those I love. I painted this quote on a piece of poster board my first year of teaching and it’s followed me ever since. I don’t know who said it but I first saw it on a similar banner in the classroom of another teacher when I was student-teaching. This year I resolve to try and embrace  it as much as I encourage others to.

“Do the best that you can, in the place that you are, and be kind.”

Happy 2013 Friends!

Patience and Balance

Patience and balance are two things I actively seek in my life.  And at this point I think seek is an appropriate verb because though they are reached at different moments, the quest is on-going.  The only thing that has reinforced the importance of patience more than my experiences with the publishing world, is my experience as a mom.  No matter what I do, my daughter shows me again and again that she will do things in her own time. I can be supportive or throw temper tantrums of my own. I can try sleep interventions or potty interventions or picky eating interventions, but the only thing that is guaranteed to work consistently, is patience and time.

I’m thinking about balance because I’ve just declared myself done with my first round of revisions for my first ever editor of my first (soon to be) published book. Over the summer I completed a solid second draft of a new book. I’ve gotten feedback from beta readers and I’ve been sitting on that feedback while I worked on the revisions for Go West.  I could have jumped right in this weekend. I’ve had opportunities to begin. I’m blogging right now, when I could be revising my way to 2nd book greatness. But I’m not. In fact, I’m enjoying not writing for a few days. I’m taking a breath.

School is back in full swing, and by this I mean we’re done meeting and greeting and I have actual papers to grade and lessons to plan.  The days are shorter and my outside time is getting more and more limited. I’m taking a breath and it feels good. I know what I need to do on book two and I’ll get there in a reasonable amount of time.

I recently read parts of the NY Times magazine on inspiration. I especially liked the interview with Junot Diaz who, in addition to being a great writer, swears a lot. The interviewer compared Diaz’s writing process to trying to distill the ocean down to a glass of water. These things take time and patience.  Which reminds me of one of my favorite Rilke quotes.

“In this there is no measuring with time, a year doesn’t matter, and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means: not numbering and counting, but ripening like a tree, which doesn’t force its sap, and stands confidently in the storms of spring, not afraid that afterward summer may not come. It does come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are there as if eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly silent and vast.” (You can read the whole thing here)

So I’m trying to not force the sap, take a breath, be silent and vast.

Okay, maybe not silent and vast. It’s not really my style. But the rest sounds good.

Never Do This Before Bed

I’ve been wrestling with a bit of an insomnia monkey in the last month and as such I’ve been trying to keep my pre-bed routine fairly dull and screen-free. Last weekend when I was staying at my parents’ house I made the mistake of grabbing my high school yearbook off the shelf at around 10 pm. Big mistake. Huge.

Soon I was poring over the pages, trying to remember private jokes from…well…from a while ago and pondering the meaning of several very deep and heartfelt messages from people I didn’t even remember being friends with. It also got me thinking about this article.  The gist of it is that as we get older we’re less open to forming new friendships. I have three close friends I’ve held on to since high school and several more from college who are pretty critical to my existence. *smiles and waves *  The whole thing made me wonder about the ways we are more open to others when we’re adolescents.  This is of particular interest to me because I write about adolescents -and particularly ones who form unlikely friendships and relationships.

There was one message in my yearbook from someone who claimed a conversation we had (May 24th 1994 -yes he cited the date) changed his life. Yep, changed his life! And I have no memory of it, except a sneaking suspicion I might have told him I thought he was gay. Not so subtle in those days. Heck, still not very subtle.

There was another short message from someone who simply signed as “no future boy”. Now that was intriguing. No idea on that one either. So the bottom line is reading your high school yearbook is great fodder for writing, and very bad for sleeping.

What I’m Grateful For…

It’s the first day of my summer vacation and as the G-ds would have it I have a nasty head cold. I would not have even gone to work yesterday if it were not the last day of school. So apologies right now if I wrote something unintelligible or profane in your yearbook kids.

I am grateful for this beautiful sunny day even if I can’t enjoy it the way I might like to. I did go outside to wash my sandals! I am grateful for daycare which means the wee one doesn’t have to put up with my snuffling and general grumpiness.

But I am especially grateful for my students. I read this article this morning in which teachers were interviewed about why they think kids drop out. And teachers, I must say, are an optimistic bunch in general. At the end of the article they were each asked what it is that keeps them going.  They all attributed their positive and hopeful attitudes to their kids and their love of teaching kids. Teaching is all about connections. If you can’t connect with someone why on earth would they want to listen to what you have to say? (I could probably go on about that ad nauseum)

It’s pretty traditional for kids to get my end of the year gifts and while these are always appreciated, my favorite part are the cards. Getting a middle school student to sit down (even if forced by parents) and write you a note of appreciation is a minor miracle. So I’m especially grateful for any words of appreciation and feedback that come from my students. By the by, my cards usually say things like “You are weird and funny.” Comments that might have upset me when I was actually in middle school now make me beam with pride.

So maybe the final thing I’m grateful for is perspective. Perspective allows me to remember that this head cold will not last forever and there will be plenty of days to enjoy the sunshine. Perspective allows me to create meaningful connections with my students but also to understand that it is right and natural that they move on and so do I.  When I’m doing my best at keeping things in perspective I can enjoy all the wonderful parts of my existence without feeling anxious about what may come, or not come. So I’m grateful for those moments too. Dayenu!

 

Popcorn, popcorn, beverage

When my daughter was a newborn my Mom stayed with us and did a lot of care-taking and cooking. I discovered that years of living without a microwave had not dampened her spirit for using one.  When reheating a meal, I asked her what she had done to achieve that perfect temperature.

“Oh,” she said.  “I just hit popcorn, popcorn, beverage!”

Of course she did.  I’m impressed by people who are undaunted by trying new things.  I find that I’m kind of on the cowardly lion side of things when it comes to new adventures or activities.  I want to be brave.  I really do.  But often my doubts and fears get the best of me.  I admire anyone who approaches a new or unfamiliar activity with optimism.

Popcorn, popcorn, beverage.  Sometimes it’s just that simple.

Writing snacks

Saw this great graphic in the NY Times book review this weekend detailing the favorite writing snacks of a random assortment of famous writers.  Including:

Walt Whitman: meat and oysters.

Emily Dickinson: Home baked bread.

John Steinbeck: Cold toast and stale coffee.  On purpose?

My favorite writing snack is a little bowl of cheezits and peanuts.  Sometimes it gets a little greasy but it always hits the spot.  When I was little my favorite reading snack was a box of wheat thins.  It seems like a natural evolution.

Your favorite writing, or other work, snack?