Yesterday

I was walking down the street the other day, passed by this little shop on Addison. It looked so romantic, and it inspired a song. We all have yesterdays–places “where past meets the present”–whether we want them or not.

“Yesterday”

We met on the sidewalk on a rainy day in Spring
Traffic ran by on East Addison Street
Time froze still, as I looked into your eyes
No future, no past, only present time

But right in front of us stood an antique store
Windows like eyes into the past: They called it “Yesterday.”

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Faded yellow paint brought to life in rain
Slanted walls holding the roof in place
Dusty shelves with tainted memories
Little did I know you’d fade away from me

Right in front of me all the signs were clear
Windows like eyes into my past
Into my yesterday

We spent all summer growing with weeds
Laughing and crying, kisses on the cheek
I thought about a future with you
What we might be if I said I loved you

But right in front of me you started pulling away
I tired to keep what we had, what we had from Yesterday

But right in front of me, you said with sad eyes
You could not give what I needed, and you became my Yesterday

Faded yellow paint burnt out by the sun
I opened the door, and went in one last time
Copper ceilings brought to life light
Time frozen still, for all to admire

But right in front of me, beneath that faded sign
Windows like eyes into the past, I went back to Yesterday

And right behind me, in the back of my mind
Windows like eyes into the past, you’ll stay my Yesterday

You’ll stay my Yesterday
I’m glad you’re my Yesterday

By the Time We Count to Sixty

By the time we count to sixty,
An entire life can change–
A world can be created,
And immediately rearranged.

By the time we count to sixty,
Hundreds enter and leave–
Worlds end and begin,
Like sand through a sieve.

By the time we count to sixty,
We suddenly have sixty less–
Sixty less moments,
But sixty more moments blessed.

By the time we count to sixty,
Our lives modify.
They adapt to the grief,
And mold into delight.

By the time we count to sixty,
We find sixty chances to learn–
Sixty chances to fail,
Sixty chances to prosper.

By the time we count to sixty,
Another sixty pass.
We begin to count the next,
That pass ever more increasingly fast.

By the time we count to sixty,
We yearn even more for time to slow.
For it to suddenly stop,
For some more time to grow.

And by the time we count to sixty,
When perceive how quickly its sped,
We realize how many times,
To sixty we have counted.

The Power of the “Not”

In order to see what something is, I believe we need to see what something isn’t.

My room was all a twitter as we continued to work on subplot, and I think it was the nature of the activity that kept them so engaged.  I was frustrated prior to class, as I was trying to find another example of a picture book with a subplot.  The problem, I’m noticing, with picture books is that subplots are extremely hard to come by. The texts are generally so brief that there is not enough space for a subplot.  In order to truly experience one of these, it is necessary to read a longer text–something more like a novel.

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Although, the prior day’s example of Voices in the Park is one of the rare cases where you can find such plots and varying perspectives intertwined, and even that story is not a great example of subplot in a story.  I had been wanting to read Greyling by Jane Yolen with the kids, a great legend about a selchie, or sea lion, that turns into a boy when on land.  It has an excellent plot, interesting characters, and wonderfully traditional word choice, something which many modern children’s books seem to have lost.

But it didn’t have a subplot, which is what I was trying to teach.  #crap

I pored over more resources, begging the bookshelves for just one picture book with a subplot, but with every book I read, I found myself empty-handed, despite the fact that I was becoming much better versed in the fantastical abyss that is children’s literature.

So then I thought, why not give them a story without a subplot?  Perhaps having to analyze a story, determine the plot structure, and then decide whether or not there was, indeed, a subplot would be rigorous enough a task to get them thinking, while still solidifying their understanding of what a subplot truly is.

So that’s what I did.  And I’m so glad I did it.

The kids began to discuss the narrator and his/her role in developing a subplot.  The kids almost mentioned minor characters and speculated about the backstory of the main characters.  While many of them, when we began thought these signaled a subplot, it helped me not only gauge my class’s understanding of the concept, but it also allowed them to flush out misconceptions and have their thoughts probed further by peers and myself.

In the beginning of the hour, most of my kids said there was a subplot after a first read. Of course, in their minds, it was too obvious: If the teacher posted the subplot learning target and then gave a story where the intention was to identify a subplot, then there would, of course, have to be a subplot. #wrongo

By the end of the class period, over 90% of my class had decided that there was no subplot in Greyling, mostly due to the fact that the whole story was about this seal turned man, and how he saved his adoptive father from a storm.  His character, and all the main characters for that matter, were critical to the main plot.  But this opportunity also allowed us to speculate–which proved to be very powerful.  We were able to ask the question: What might this story be like if there was a subplot?  This, once again, further enhanced their understanding of the target, because it asked them to conjure up an underlying storyline to accompany the main one. It turned out that providing a non-example was just as powerful, if not more than, providing an actual example.

And isn’t that true for everything in life?

I believe that, in order to do something right–and I mean to truly do something right–we have to know what it looks like when it’s wrong, so I’d suggest trying it this week or next. Think about your learning target, give the kids a non-example, and see if you can enhance their experience with the power of the “not.”

Flat Tires, Headaches, Ebbs, and Flows

Nothing is permanent, and everything is temporary, whether we want it be or not.

I drove tonight, making my way home from tutoring rather blissfully.  I was excited to make it home, drink a glass of wine, and then drift of peacefully into a soft slumber before another stressful day at work.  The days have been weighing on me recently.  February and March are always crazy with the trimester ending, report cards being due, and the dreaded standardized tests in childrens’ fickle hands.

But I was headed home, ready to relax, when all of a sudden, my car kerplunked into yet another one of Chicago’s finest potholes, making the undercarriage of my car scream, and my lungs gasp with shock.  My steering wheel turned indignantly to the left, dragging the entire body of the car with it.  I flashed back to only two weeks before, when a replica of this same incident occurred just a couple miles north.  I muttered a few expletives, got out of my car, examined my tired, kicked it a few times and cursed a bit more, until I reentered my vehicle and drove it to the gas station across the street.

photo (5)Flat Tires

I think life has been telling me to slow down recently.  I’m going a mile per minute, exhausting myself with every movement, action, and word, trying to make up for time I feel like I’ve lost, or desperately trying to make sure I don’t miss out on any opportunities, or maybe it’s all in a sheer avoidance of confronting some things I don’t want to confront.

Just two weeks ago, I woke up in the morning, and careened briskly down my hallway at about 5:30 in the morning.  My face was buried in my phone, checking the weather, checking my e-mail, and doing a million other things I probably should not have been doing while walking.  Needless to say, Mother Karma reminded me that it was important to slow myself down a bit by knocking me flat on my ass with a small patch of ice that lay right outside my front door.  It seemed that, within a matter of seconds, I was lying flat on my back, staring up at the milky morning sky, residual light from stars twinkling in the distance and my breath wandering up towards it, hiding the stars temporarily in its mist.

My back tinged with pain, and my shoulders radiated the screams of my nerves as I slowly regained my composure and crawled to my feet.  I walked in a curved line for the next twenty feet, both my thoughts and perceptions discombobulated.  I got to work, realized I had shattered my iPad from the fall, and continued my day begrudgingly.

It wasn’t until later that day that Mother Karma decided to knock me down again.  I was driving, trying to get to a “first date” as quickly as I could, when my car unexpectedly hit a pothole.  What’s interesting is that I took a different route that night than I usually did.  I thought it would be quicker; I thought I could get there more efficiently by taking that route, and so that’s what I did.  However, it wasn’t until I hit the pothole and drove on both my tire and my denial for about twenty minutes before I became lucid and realized the reality of my situation.  I was driving on a flat tire.

Headaches

When I was a kid, I used to get headaches all the time.  In hindsight, they seemed to come out of nowhere, but I always remembered complaining of them.  Perhaps it was the occasional motion sickness or my allergies, but I always remember feeling them.  And it would seem that when I wasn’t having one of these headaches, I would always forget about them.  I’d forget about how terrible they were, and forget that ever had or ever would plague me again.

Likewise, as soon as the headache would usurp all of the good feelings within my skull, I would realize just how precious the times I had without the headaches were.  Eventually, I started promising myself that I would be sure to remember what it was like to be without a headache–that I would begin to appreciate the times when I was feeling good.  But it never really seemed to happen.

What’s difficult for me is that, when I am in a phase that is undesirable, I find it hard to imagine that I’ll be out of it, and I promise myself that I’ll appreciate the good times when they’re around.  And that’s how I feel again.  I don’t understand how to cope the ebbs and flows.  I don’t understand how to trust the highs, while anticipating the lows.  I don’t understand how to appreciate the good, when all history teaches me is that, just around the corner, something bad awaits.

I suppose what I can take out of this, though, is that no matter what phase we’re in, it ultimately seems endless.  When we are in times of blissfully ignorant elation, those times seem endless; we are unaware of the other things around us, we are truly present, and we are unable to focus on the fact that those moments of elation are nothing but fleeting.  Likewise, when we are in moments of painfully ignorant despair, those times seem endless, as well; we are wholly aware of our pain, and unaware of most other things around us.  We are present in our sadness, and unable to focus on the fact that those moments of sadness are nothing but fleeting, as well.

When I sat tonight on the side of the road, with my flat tire sinking my entire car along with my mood down and to the left, I thought of my previous state of mind, just moments before, ready to take the rest of the night off, happy to be going home, looking forward to a good night’s sleep.  And then, my mood had suddenly and unexpectedly transformed, into frustrated, fed up, and at my wit’s end with the stroke of bad luck in which I seemed to be drowning.

But eventually, before I knew it, my tire was changed, I was on my way home, and that moment of frustration was alleviated by the kind man who changed my tire–ironically, the same one who had changed it for me two weeks prior. Side note: I know how to change a tire; I just didn’t have the tools.  And yes, that side note is meant to be a double entendre.

Changing Our Flat Tires

So what’s the point in this story?  I’m not sure.  Does it have a double meaning?  Were my flat tires, headaches, and falls to the ground signs to slow down and change something?  Maybe they were, and maybe they weren’t.  In fact, it doesn’t really matter, because all that really does matter is that they happened, they were temporary, I got through them, and now I’m appreciating my full tires, my clear head, while carefully watching for any rogue patches of ice that come my way.

Stream of Consciousness: Distractions

My apartment is very quiet this weekend.  I left my piano at school, due to the fact that I’ve been having an absolute blast with the kids, singing and playing in some of our free time this week. I wanted to bring it home, so that I’d have something to distract me at home, but I’m glad I kept it at school, so that we could have more fun with it next week. I will say, though, that I’ve had a much more productive weekend due to the fact that my piano has not been at home with me.

Distractions are interesting in that way.  They provide us a temporary release from our current realities.  They give us an opportunity to ignore what’s bothering us and what seems to be standing in our way.  But I wonder if distractions are actually good for us.  I wonder if distractions are healthy.  Intuitively, it would seem like they’re good.  It would seem like it’s good to give ourselves a break from reality every so often, to provide ourselves with some relief from what’s bothering us.  But it seems to me like the distractions only prolong the feelings we so desperately need to confront.

What’s the difference between distracting ourselves, compartmentalizing feelings, ignoring problems, and moving on?  How do we avoid perseveration while still continuing to process feelings in a healthy way?  When is it appropriate to cast aside feelings, and when is it appropriate to confront them?

The woman next to me is slurping her coffee really loudly.

See, distractions can be bad, too.  Distractions can also make it so we don’t accomplish anything.  Distractions can be little inklings in our ears, little flutterings within our heart, that make it impossible for us to focus and concentrate, until those utterings and flutterings are so loud that they’re screaming at us, trying to get us to move or squash the stimulus that is distracting us so.

I really wish that woman would stop slurping her coffee.

Fail Hard, Fail Fast, Fail Often

“Fail fast, fail hard, fail often.  If you haven’t failed, you’ve never really tried anything,” Annette said as she began our yoga session.

It was my first yoga class in over a month.  I’m not sure why I had been avoiding this so much, but I’ve noticed when I get down, I stop taking care of myself.  I let a lot of things go, and my personal health has been one of those things I let go of recently.  I’m happy to say I think I’ve taken a turn back on the upswing–making sure my apartment’s clean, trying to go to bed a bit earlier, buying healthy food instead of fast food, and of course, now going to yoga again.

It seemed oddly coincidental that, in my first session back, the mantra with which the instructor chose to lead the session was about failing hard, failing fast, and failing often.

Well, I can certainly say that I’ve been doing that recently.

I got dinner with a friend a couple of weeks ago, while the sting of my break-up was still piercing through me, leaving my body in a state of numbed shock.  We mulled over all of the details, cutting deeper into the wound with what seemed like a dull knife.  I found that I had been beating myself up–beating myself up for giving away too much too soon, for loving too hard, for being too much of me, for advocating too strongly for what I wanted, for laying my purest and most whole version of my heart on the table.  In hindsight, I think I was sorry for being me.

And so my relationship failed.  Miserably.  I found myself in a very similar predicament to the one I was in less than a year ago.  I had truly tried, truly given it my all, only to find out that I had failed… again.

So what’s the difference between these two instances?  Not much, really, I suppose.  In fact, at times, it felt like I was in the same relationship all over again, confining myself to someone who was not emotionally mature enough to function in an adult relationship, meanwhile convincing myself that I was the problem, I was the one who needed to slow down and wait it out–that it would fix itself if I was just patient.

“I think that takes f***ing balls, man,” my friend said to me. “Laying it all out there like that. You just have to know that someday it’s going to pay off.”

I stared back at him, with a half-smile on my face, knowing he was saying exactly what a friend is supposed to say in that situation, meanwhile feeling like a turtle, retracting my head back into my shell, wondering if I’d ever be able to just “lay it all out there” again, wondering if I’d really be able to do better next time like I promised myself a year ago.

So now, I think it’s time I start listening to myself more.

I lead with my class with a mantra similar to the one the yoga instructor was spreading last night.  I tell my students to take risks, to be wrong, and to allow others, and ourselves, to learn from mistakes.  In fact, I thank my students all the time for their wrong answers, for saying something “way off,” because it allows us to see what the “wrong” looks like and how to rebound from it.

So I’ve been wrong twice now.  I’ve heard the little voice in my chest–that little voice that slowly begins to shake my heart, making it palpitate with bubbles and tremors; that little voice that slowly grows louder as its ignored time and time again, and I think I’m ready to begin trusting it more now.  Because that’s exactly what I wasn’t doing before, trusting myself.  I was listening more to the voices of others than my own, externalizing my self-worth, and allowing the others’ insecurities to permeate my psyche, sending me on a downward spiral of self-doubt.

But I have learned some things.

I failed “hard” when I lost trust in myself and when I stopped listening to myself; I failed “faster” than I did last time, not waiting around for five years to see what I already knew was true (a truly successful failure, if you ask me), and I suppose I’ve failed “often.”  Failing twice at the same thing seems often enough for me.  And so what did I learn?

I learned that I need to listen to myself and trust my instincts, even when I don’t like what they have to say.  Our instincts are there for a reason, and date all the way back to our earliest of ancestors, our most basic being “fight or flight.”  I know now that, without a doubt, when my body is telling me to “fly,” I best be getting on that plane, even when it feels like the harder choice to make.

I learned that I’m awesome.  I learned that I do things hard, fast, and often, because I am an innately passionate person, one who has a desire for self-improvement and learning, one who realizes that true periods of growth do not come from walking on eggshells and being tentative.  True personal growth comes from taking a risk, throwing in everything you’ve got, and simply waiting for the time that it pays off.

I grew because I cared, and I grew because I tried. And so I’m going to continue laying it all out there, caring with my whole heart, trying with every ounce of energy.

And I’m going to continue to grow.

Teacher First, Gay Second: Coming Out to My Students

Looping, by educational definition, is the practice of having the same group of students for more than one year.  At my school, this practice is routine, and both 4/5 teams have the same set of students for two years.  While there are myriad academic benefits, I love the relationships that I am able to forge with the students over the course of two years.

The down side, you ask? At the end of fifth-grade, the kids become absolutely crazy.  In fact, I feel like we are always surprised when March rolls around, and the kids are absolutely beside themselves, ridden with spring fever, hormones, and an insatiable yearning to move on from the confines of elementary school and into what seems like, to them, the freedom of middle school.

And this year’s group has manifested its pre-spring craze with an Instagram obsession, one where they have chosen to post pictures of each other, paired with their rumored “boyfriends” or “girlfriends.”  Naturally, this led to a stern talking-to from mean Mr. France today.  I gave the usual spiel about the dangers of posting gossip online and the possible severe implications of posting any sort of regrettable picture or utterance in an arena where others can see it.  And of course, immediately following, I had a line of remorseful (or just plain fearful) students, ready to confess their transgressions or reveal the transgressions of others.

But what happened next, I wasn’t quite prepared for.

Two of my sweetest girls stared up at me with half-smiles, seemingly nervous to discuss their perspective on the now infamous Instagram scandal.

“So what’s up?” I said to them.

“Well,” they eyed each other, and returned their stare to me, uncomfortable smiles still apologizing on their faces. “We’re kind of nervous to talk about it.”

“Girls, this is a safe environment.  Whatever you need to say will stay in this room,” I replied.

“Well, it’s kind of about you,” one of them said to me.

“Oh? Really?” I smiled surprisingly toward them.

“Well, it’s about something on your Instagram.”

Now, let’s be clear.  

My Instagram is private, and I did that purposefully a long time ago.  I also do not allow students to follow me, but just like every other Instagram account, all users can see my profile picture.  At one point, I had a picture of another man kissing me on the cheek, and this is exactly what they were referring to.

My first thought was to go and have this conversation in front of another adult, mostly to make sure that my words were not misinterpreted.  While I could have simply brushed the conversation off and said that it was “nobody’s business,” the last thing I wanted was to be plagued with the same regret from one year ago, coincidentally, almost at the same time.

Some might argue that it is just that: Nobody’s business.  And those people are perfectly entitled to their opinions, but let me say this: Until you are gay, and until you have to constantly wonder to whom and when you can reveal this sort of information (while your straight friends do it so safely and effortlessly), you have no right to enforce that opinion.

So we moved across the hall and continued our conversation.

“Okay, girls, we can continue our conversation now.  I’d just feel better if we had this conversation in front of Miss Schmidt, too.”

“Well,” one girl started, “everyone is saying something about you.”

“Well, do you want to tell me what they’re saying?”

She started to utter the same sentence. “Everyone is saying…” and then she stopped, looking at her friend some more.

“Is it bad or something?  It’s okay.  I can handle it,” I replied.  Or something very close to that, when meanwhile, I knew exactly what they were about to say.

“Yea, it’s bad,” she confessed to me. “Well, everyone was saying that you were gay… and like, making fun of it.”

#boom

It happened, and I’d be lying if I said I was totally calm and collected during this conversation.  While my exterior exuded an extremely calm presence, on the inside, my adrenaline seemed to be tearing each and every vein, making my extremities a bit shaky and my internal temperature begin to rise. But it was the opportunity I’d been waiting for, the natural passageway into a conversation about who I am, and who I should be allowed to be–no matter where I am or who I am with.

“Well, do you know what that word means?”

They both nodded and told me their definition of the word. Luckily, it was correct, both factually and politically, unlike a similar conversation from last year, where they didn’t quite have their facts straight.

“Okay, yes, that’s what it means.  And yea, I am gay, but it’s nothing that anyone should really be making fun of.  It’s all about how you say it; it’s like if someone’s tall or short or fat or skinny.  Just because someone says I’m gay doesn’t mean they’re saying something bad. It’s true. I am gay.”

Not the response they were expecting–that’s for sure.  What’s funny is that the conversation ended so casually, after they picked their jaws up off the floor, of course.  What, in their eyes, and in mine I suppose, had been fantasized to be such a climactic and dramatic experience, really ended up being as anticlimactic as the next conversation.

photo (4)And that’s exactly what I wanted–for them, and for me.

In fact, as opposed to the climax of a story that eventually falls into its harmonious resolution, this instance felt like the spark that started a story, the point from which the story began to take off, the beginning of the rising action of many stories–not only my story as a gay teacher, but more importantly, their stories as young ladies: The stories where they learn to understand the relative unimportance of minor differences, the irrelevance of gossip and the rumor mill, and the fact that their teacher, who they could now see as a real person, was, in fact, gay–that their teacher was, or is, characterized by a word that once incited fear and discomfort in them.

Because now, instead of equating the word “gay” with something “weird” that only creates whispers and rumors, they can now equate the word “gay” with their fourth- and fifth-grade teacher of two years, someone who they first knew as their teacher: an avid reader, artful writer, problem-solver, passionate musician; someone who they first knew as another person’s son, brother, or friend.  Moreover, and most importantly, they knew all of this about me before I was labeled with the word “gay.”

I cannot tell you how proud I feel today.