Perspective

It goes like this: make a career choice on the cusp of choosing something else, embrace and love career whilst parenting . . . get a little grief . . . get a little tired . . . then quit your fucking job on a wing and a prayer.

There’s a little more to unpack there, but later. Here’s my new About page. 

While planning my transition out of secondary education and into healthcare I realized that I needed some skills, vocabulary, and experience. I’m used to being good at my job and, on the days where I’m not, at least having the knowledge TO do it well. I couldn’t enter school without a base, so I decided to take a Nursing Assistant course at our local technical school. I’m not going to lie – taking this as a compressed course is both easier and more difficult than I thought it would be. I’m learning how to study again, how to maneuver a foreign language, and how to be human.

These last couple of years have left me a little pruny, and wondering if my warm, nice self was ever going to return and send this really cynical and kind of bitter lady packing. But leaving my clinical this week, I felt a little tweak in my chest as I realized: I don’t hate this, I smiled at work, I am literally IN the shit but am leaving tired, satisfied, and maybe even a little happy?

Classes were running three days a week for about 7 hours a day. We split between lecture and reading and lab. I’ve been terrified all along that I am only good at thinking about things and not at the actual doing of things – so I’m happy to report that I can take your blood pressure and get a reasonably accurate reading. Let’s be clear that I’m still better with my brain than my hands but goddamnit I’m learning. Now that we’re in clinicals were in class some days, clinicals others. Our clinical experiences are all in a local nursing home and after we’ve met requirements for certain skills we just get in there.

I cried on the way home from my first clinical day because I couldn’t find my way around the building (it’s not that big or that complicated) and I couldn’t figure out how the nurses and aids kept so much information in their heads at one time. I diagnosed my self with a processing disorder and decided that I was one of those people who just couldn’t do anything and was going to die squatting in houses like an old crazy cat food eating poet.

I was fine by the end of the second day. Not proficient in any way. Like, I am sometimes working under a teenaged CNA with way more experience and working knowledge than I have.

There’s really something to going back to the beginning. There is no option but for me to be humble because while I may have a whole set of professional experiences and knowledge, it is of little consequence here. I’m learning to be grateful for my healthy working body, for the ability to shower and toilet and eat and dress with freedom, and for my readily available friends and family. I’m also learning to shut up, listen, and ask for help.

I leave at the end of the shift tired (but let’s be REALLY honest – I’m doing about 1/8 of the work of the CNAs on shift) but I leave having had ZERO time to navel gaze and contemplate the state of my existence or any of the other stupid shit I’m consumed with on any given day. I love this so much. And this is on top of the fact that I’m helping people with immediate issues, making them more comfortable, and being in the company of elders whose life experience makes me feel like an infant.

On that – I feel 20 years younger as a student, but as my classmates reminded me when I cut up vegetables and cheese for them at lunch – “you’re such a mom!”. Feel younger, am not actually younger. Oh well.

While this is all good, I’m feeling the looming economic crisis within my household. I know the CNAs all scramble for overtime and extra shifts and I cannot imagine how their bodies can take it. I realize that I have done very little actual HARD WORK in my life. And I certainly question my ability to teach part time, pick up CNA shifts, and attend school full time. I felt a little Barbara Ehrenrich-y  when clinicals began, but then I realized that this isn’t an experiment and I don’t have any back up money or a book deal. Mine is the best case scenario of on-your-actual-own because I at least already have housing and transportation and have had recent health care.

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Gratuitous Pictures of Dogs and Miscellaneous Early Mid-Life Musings

I can’t stop watching my dogs play. You heard me correctly – dogs – plural. A soccer mom friend asked me “What were you thinking?!” as I was tangled up in two on the sidelines. “I wasn’t,” I replied, “Everything’s easier that way.” All joking aside, the universe lined up. Our new boy is an untrained, skidding everywhere, pees-when-he’s-excited heart salve and every single person in this household loves him. He makes the little dog better, and I think he makes all of us better. There is no magic medicine for melancholy, but puppy love is pretty damn close.

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I am still gutted. I am loading the dishwasher or teaching a lesson or on the phone and a wave a grief pulls me under and I just. can’t. breathe. I am underwater. I make actual lists of the great good fortune in my life, but then I button pants and I did not expect to be wearing real pants right now. I am walking and talking and meditating and medicating and doing everything in my power to just feel better. And I am, sometimes, better. But I do wonder if I’m holding on to this what if, this almost, because I’m afraid this is as close as I’m going to get. I am sad and I just can’t imagine what my life is going to look like when I am no longer actively parenting. I’ll complain all damn day about how hard my kid is but that does not negate my desire to parent until the day I die.

Cooper and Sweet Pea are smoothing out the edges.

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These boys are doing their adolescent jobs and preparing me to be ready to let them leave. This is code for they-are-driving-me-fucking-crazy and I-thought-I’d-be-better-at-this. The highs are high and I wonder what I will ever do without them; the lows have me searching for boarding schools with financial aid that start tomorrow. Like I will pack this car and drive you there right now heart of my heart and fruit of my loins. While I’m busy worrying about their social skills and general academic competency they are out there doing exactly what they need to do (and probably some shit that they shouldn’t but anyway).

We spent an evening at the sweatiest college fair of all time. I felt a flutter of hope as I heard the boys asking questions that I NEVER expected to hear from them, “What is the expected SAT score?” and “Tell me about life at _______.” My heart is expanding and contracting at such a furious rate I have zero faith I will survive until graduation. All those 20-something college reps? The best entertainment of the night was watching them pack up to get them SUM DRINKS. You should have seen the eyes being made across that field house. I almost pissed myself. Oh, to be 20-something. I just wanted a shower and yoga pants.

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Hockey season! The crown jewel of my year. I love peace and friendship and all that shit but GIVE ME SOME HOCKEY so I can regress like a proper human.

We had nearly full-family participation in spirit week. If you are not a high school student or a teacher you have blocked this memory out. It is when zero learning takes place over the course of one week because football.

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Mama/Ms. W as Madonna for Decade’s Day – The English Department is full of characters and friends and we NAILED it with 80’s icons ALLLLLL day. Also my getup scared the dogs so much I couldn’t get them inside. No sparkls mma plz wi scurd.

Kid did not go with either of these outfits but solidly represented Bill from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Class color day and Bangor day were fully observed throughout.

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This picture does not do justice to the perfection that is Mark Bittman’s popover recipe with Trader Joe’s Everything But The Bagel seasoning. I would eat these every day.

What else? OH! I fixed MY OWN DAMN CAR!

This is a much longer story, but here’s the Spark Notes version: BF borrowed my car, car came home broken, I lost my shit, but then I googled shit, and texted my ex-husband, then I got my code scanned, bought parts and fixed this damn thing. Thank you, YouTube.

It turns out this old dog still has some capacity for new tricks.

I hope the rest of this month finds you well.

Heather

On Radical Kindness

As promised, here are my remarks for our 2016 National Honor Society induction ceremony. 

Good evening. Before I begin, I want to thank you for asking me to speak tonight. I am honored, and so very proud of all of you. As our current Public Speaking teacher, I feel just a tiny bit of pressure to perform.

The National Honor Society is comprised of students who have demonstrated excellence in scholarship, leadership, service, and character. YOU are the people I send my freshmen to for help. You are the ambassadors of our school and community. I hope that what I have to say to you tonight supports this mission, gives you something to think about as you go forth.

So, to do this, I need you to play along with me for a moment.

Close your eyes.

YOU are Harry Potter jumping into the Pensieve, the sparkling sink of memories, here. If you were to narrate your own story, right now, what would the critical, most important moments, the game changers, look like? Thinking backward, what events have led to your sitting here tonight? What is your story?

When I tell mine, I have landmarks – good and bad – but ALL that good has something in common: kindness. I’m not talking about getting a pay-it-forward coffee in the drive-through at Dunkin’, although that is a sure way to put a smile on my face. I’m talking about deeper, life-altering kindness, a kindness that is not safe, or comfortable, or easy.

Now I want you to take a moment and look to your left, and look to your right. Search the crowd like a spotlight. Whose story do you know? Think of someone you had trouble with today, a freshman in your way on the ramp or a cranky teacher or your best friend, or your mama. What is their story? What do you think their day was like today? Visualize concentric circles and move out, and think about those in your – school – community – state – nation – world. How very many stories are we missing?

My story is built upon the radical kindness of others.

I have experienced radical kindness at the hands of professors who, when my options were to lug a feverish toddler to class or stay home, said, “you are both welcome, come”. In this they said, “you are smart, you are welcome, you are worthy.”

I’ve experienced radical kindness in the words of writers who, knowing what criticism would come, told their truths anyway. For in telling their truths they nodded to the rest of us and said, “you are not alone.”

I’ve experienced radical kindness in Target-line conversations and smiles and held doors and when reading “I’m proud of you” scribbled in the margins of a most challenging grad paper. In this, they said, “you are seen, you are valued.”

Each of these moments required pause, they required time and energy of the giver, a moment outside of oneself (or ones phone).

Each of these moments ferried me over the difficult ones, and it is not hyperbolic to say that I would not be here, right now, without each one of them.

Radical kindness happens in the margins. Radical kindness is not random.

It is empathy, and validating the feelings of others.

It is humility, and knowing we are one of many.

It is respect, regard for that which is different from you.

It is a verb. Not an idea, but an action.

It is recognizing that we ALL have a story.

I fail at this every day, and that is okay. Giving advice to young writers, lecturer and writer Andrew Solomon says “ . . . It is nearly impossible to hate anyone whose story you know . . .” and this thought sits like a virtual worry stone in the pocket of my heart. My daily failure means I am trying. It does not stop me from showing up again the next day, and the next, and the next, for I must.

Now is the time for radical kindness.

This is not to say that the act of “paying it forward” is meaningless. There will never be too much of that. It is to say that you are getting older, and more mature, and you are ready to make the hard choices – to look beyond yourselves.

It is often much easier to pay $2 for a cup of coffee than it is to stop and help someone pick up their dropped papers in the hall. It is easier to judge than to wonder. It is easier to give a present than it is to listen, and it is much more comfortable to complete a “random act of kindness” than to tell your friends “please don’t say that” or “leave him alone.”

But you are ready to make the hard choices. You need 0 dollars to change your way of moving about this one, wild and beautiful world.

Mother Teresa once commented on the state of the world: “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” So again, I ask you to look to your left, and look to your right. Search the crowd like a spotlight.

Now, stand up.

If you are comfortable doing so, grab the hands of those next to you.

Here are your people.

In radical kindness we affirm that we do, indeed, belong to each other.

Thank you.

The ceremony was lovely and the most difficult moment was restraining myself from helping when two young gentlemen behind me were struggling to place the new NHS pins on each other. 

Now I am tired, and am looking forward to a weekend of very little other than house cleaning and hockey. 

xoxo

Heather

 

Radical

At school, we share our success just as freely as we share our failures. About a month ago my dear friend and colleague, Jane, popped into my room at the end of the day to tell me about her moment. And friends, it was a good one.

Like my lockdown story, it was born of necessity. She had a student who finished his work and desperately needed something to do. She decided to try something new.

“I decided to do something totally new,” she said,  “I had him give compliments. I asked him to give everyone in the room a personal, genuine compliment. Happily, he’s the type of extrovert who would accept such a challenge. He walked through the rows of desks and stopped to compliment each classmate. If he knew them well, he mentioned their sense of humor, a time they were helpful, etc. If he didn’t know the person, he complimented their appearance, drawings, handwriting, or something else visible to him. Students looked surprised, then quickly pleased. Because how often does that happen in English class? 🙂 Everyone had a smile by the end of class. How simple, yet how powerful.”

Now, props here, because one has to KNOW their class for something like this to work. It also is a precise example of the transitory nature of the classroom. This cannot be planned out and placed in a syllabus, it does not need to be aligned to the Common Core Standards for Students Will Not Act Like Assholes. It is organic, and fluid, and entirely context dependent.

This, friends, is what builds the culture of a program, a school, a community.

After Jane told me about her moment, I started thinking about the risks it takes to be kind. For teachers, students, and those all around, there are significant risks to putting oneself ‘out there’ into the range of others. It is so much easier to stay within the boxes on our syllabi, the lines on our lesson plans. Students are more comfortable filling in worksheets or playing the perennial favorite, laptop solitaire, than they are interacting with each other.

Being a teenager is hard. Being a teenager behind a screen, from what I observe, is even harder. Jane’s on-the-fly assignment created an authentic interaction involving every single student in that classroom. The giving and receiving of a compliment seems so very simple, and is anything but.

So I kept thinking and kept thinking and kept thinking about how this was a radical kind of kindness, something vastly different from pay-it-forward coffee (which is awesome, not knocking that at all).

And then I was invited to speak at our National Honor Society induction, and it turns out that I have quite a lot to say about radical kindness. So I will say these things tomorrow.

I am honored and nervous and earnest and fiercely proud of these students.

xoxo

Heather

 

The Lockdown Story

 

Lockdown drills are an unfortunate necessity in modern America. Every school has their own protocol, and I’m finally seasoned enough to only question whether I leave the blinds up or down.

I know where my “Grab and Go” bag is, and I no longer need to consult the cheat sheets and maps for directions.

My students always gather in the same spot. As soon as the announcement booms over the intercom, they look at me, and all I have to do is point; they follow. Even when I know the announcement is coming, my stomach still drops when I hear it.

The students are every teenaged archetype all at once. A couple of boys flick each other and gesture to communicate. I suspect they have Pokemon cards in their pockets. One girl scowls at the chalkboard, her eyes betraying her invulnerable appearance. All of them look without moving, and I know that they, too, wonder: Is this really a drill? 

I think about the moment in yoga class when the teacher inevitably instructs us to open our hearts, to let our hearts raaadiate out to the corners of the room. I visualize this, and hope that the kids don’t know what I’m thinking because they’ll NEVER let me live it down, but also that they feel it. It’s okay, I breathe, I’ve got you.

I grab a clipboard, a piece of scrap paper, and a pen. I write “Once Upon a Time . . .”, and the kids take it from there.

Once Upon a Time . . .

Our class wrote about Student X.

The story was about him getting hurt.

But he ended up being okay.

Which was very fortunate for he had plans that afternoon.

While they write, I breathe. I scan the students, do a quick count from my perch on the floor, take the temperature of the classroom. The two fuzzy faced boys are still playing silent games with each other. Others have settled in, criss cross applesauce, and are waiting for their turn to work on the story.

He had plans to create an army and overthrow Donald Trump.

And Donald Trump yelled at him to go away

Donald Trump decided to build a wall in between him

and Student X. Donald was leaning on the weird wall

one day and Student X shaved his hair off his head.

One couple looks a little too cozy. We’re sitting directly under Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and this makes me smile. But I’m still watching them. Another teacher is nearly hidden amongst the students – the poor guy just wanted to show me a funny quiz, and now he’s stuck here, silent, on the floor, dwarfed by freshmen.

He accidentally cut his head open with the razor.

I watch the clipboard snake its way through the huddle of hormones and hair. The intercom clicks and I know what’s coming: ‘Good job’ the assistant principal announces, the lockdown is over.

Students groan and I grin. “Read it!” they yell. I hold up the clipboard “As soon as you’re back in your seats!”

Once upon a time . . . 

My Shitty Husband

I didn’t realize it was my (former?) anniversary until I saw it on Facebook. “Three years ago today . . .” it said. And there was a picture of so many of us, my people, huddled together in and around and on top of the outhouse that my then fiancé carefully crafted so that it would be useful at camp after we used it as a photo booth.

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I couldn’t find him in the picture.

I thought the hard part of divorce was the decision. I remember a nearly full year of agonizing and crying and mourning. Of walking through every possible scenario to save whatever was left. Then one day, I wasn’t mourning anymore. I was done crying and done hypothesizing; the unraveling of our union proceeded with remarkable ease.

But here I am, five months later, and I realize that the hard part is NOW.

The hard part is when you miss your really shitty husband.

The hard part is when you have cramps like Vesuvius and your kid is surly and you think you’ve failed at raising him AND the fucking dishes never end, man. Never end. You just want to read your book, walk the dog, go to fucking yoga, man. You realize that there is no one else to make the coffee, and no matter how shitty a person is, if they bring you coffee in the morning? You remember what that feels like. You still wake up some days and roll over, thinking that a hot cup of coffee will be right beside you.

Even when your shitty spouse seems to do nothing more than make life difficult, there is someone there to yell at. Someone who, for better or worse, knows the only way to stop the tears, catch your breath.

Our life together was not healthy or fun, and the rare good times were too far apart to even create the illusion of happiness. But he was . . . there. Even if the burden of home fell on me, there was another human around. In Case of Emergency.

As a teacher, I spend the end of August and beginning of September coiling, coiling, coiling so tightly that I actively fear the release. I know that something is next, but I’m never quite sure what. It could be a weekend of sleeping, a thrown coffee mug, or a midnight drive. But usually, it’s just a couple of hours of uncontrollable sobbing. (I blame society, not nature, for the record.)

Maladaptive, yes, but there are few people in the universe, who can both push you over the edge and soften your fall. My shitty husband could do both.

 

And I miss him this week.

Thursday

And if I loved you Wednesday,

Well, what is that to you?

I do not love you Thursday —

So much is true. 


And why you come complaining

Is more than I can see. 

I loved you Wednesday, — yes — but what

Is that to me? 

— ESVM



Oh, friends. 

You heard me say, yesterday, how I did not believe in so very many things: fate, true love, kismet. But just maybe something was at play today. 

I have slept, eaten, and read well. I drank too much coffee and ate an enormous breakfast; I took a long, hot bath and fell asleep-with wet hair- in my bathrobe. I woke up at lunchtime and ventured into West Stockbridge for coffee. I finished some reading, had a lovely visit with Joel from the Cali-style mobile store which included a tour of the factory. I bought a felt puppy for Baby Fern. It was gorgeous, sunny and sparkly and clear and warm. 

I drove by the Millay property at Steepletop and realized that I should hike today — storms are in the forecast for tomorrow. The property is situated off a three-ish mile dirt road. 

  
  

  I ditched the Subaru, threw on my backpack and hit the trail. 

 

  I had no idea what to expect. 

one of my favorites – look it up and read the entire thing

  These poetry placards line the trail. 

precisely, Vincent
 
  
 
The Millay Poetry Trail

  

 I had no idea 1. How long the trail was or 2. That the grave sites were situated at the end of it. I have unrealistic expectations for a husband simply from reading about Eugen. He once said if his wife wrote one good poem a year, then he had done his job. 

Mama Millay

  

I wrote to a friend: “I am sitting in a family graveyard.” I sat for awhile. I gathered stones and stacked them next to others. I talked to myself, to the trees, to one very loud bird, and to Edna and Eugen. 

 

I was passed by a young gentleman runner. He caught back up later and walked me to the end of the trail. He was a composer, one of the artists-in-residence at the Millay Colony for the Arts. More on that later. 

  

I reached the lower parking lot and gathered my keys when I saw a man open the shed door. “Do you work here?” I asked him. He replied “yes,” and I asked permission to walk the house grounds. He smiled and showed me to the main office. Martha gave me a sticker so I could be official, and Michael, who I learned is the staff gardener, pointed me in the direction of the main house. Then he said “oh, I’ll show you some of the highlights.”

  

  

  

Millay’s last writing cabin

 An hour later, we finished back at the main house. 

The new caretaker was moving into the apartment Norma and Charlie Ellis (Millay’s sister and BIL) shared, and he and Michael talked as I prepared to get into my car. “Do you want to see it?” He asked, and I knew I was about to meet my new best friend or get murdered. I weighed my options and figured that if I had to go, this was a pretty spot to bite it in. My mother will be proud. 

It was bright and warm, and I walked the same floors that Edna walked when she used the apartment to write in while her shed was being rebuilt. His excitement was palpable. He knew how special this place was. 

I stayed awhile longer and we sat by the stream sharing Stories. This new caretaker, Prescott, had a lifetime of knowledge not just about the property, but the entire area. We acknowledged the rare gift of today, and of Millay’s spirit – connecting Maine and Steepletop yet again. 

More tomorrow. 

Xoxo

Heather