A few un-edited and tangential paragraphs.

 It must have been Fall 2003 semester because I had moved into university apartments and, unrelated, had a brief affair with the pediatrician. But a classmate in my undergrad creative non-fiction class slipped a cd into my hands as we left class. “Calluna” scribbled in Sharpie over the front, it was housed in one of those old crinkly paper envelopes with a cellophane window. Aimee Mann’s “Red Vines” and “Long December” and three Tool tracks and a bunch I don’t remember and could never identify; it went long, had a logical progression, and I played it for 16 years until I bought a car that didn’t have a cd player.

I don’t remember his name, but I do remember it was after a workshop in which the class and instructor focused wholly on one event in my essay instead of workshopping the entire piece and I was exhausted. I was frustrated that I wasn’t communicating what I was trying to say, and worried that I would never learn to do it effectively. Aside from the mixes my son has made for me, this was the most personally astute and seasonably appropriate mix I have ever encountered, and I wonder still if anyone has ever considered me as well as that stranger from ENG 309.

And now I am forty. This morning I had to audibly tell myself not to go get a pair of maternity pants (my child is 2.5 years old), and I pouted putting on my “good leggings” and a pair of ankle boots in an attempt to Look Like a Grownup. My daughter often plants her sticky hands on the sides of my face and cranks my head around to wherever she is: “Look at me!” she says, and I know exactly what she’s talking about.

We had another stretch at home, everyone has been sick, and I’m in the middle of serial CDC testing. On one hand, I’m glad they are paying attention but on the other, I don’t have time for this. Because the world has decided to move on the we all are moving on and trying to do, I don’t know, our work? But we’re still in the middle of a fucking pandemic and all of this takes time. So much time.


The other day I thought that I might just dissolve into a smoking pile of Reductress memes. Here I am – with one foot on the escalator and the other on the ground making wild leaps in logic. See? I am making all of these moves purposefully and it will work out fine. There I go, glowering over my shoulder at a man looking over his shoulder! See where my eyebrows meet? That’s a permanent mark now.

That is to say, it’s the season of doing everything and nothing and smashing stink bugs on the office window and trying to remember all the tasks and appointments because if I write it all down I will asphyxiate under the weight of the 12pt font. The roof is leaking and there have been many phone calls with still no roofer, the toddler has a tick in her head and needs prophylactic antibiotics and this will require two trips to the pharmacy, three online portal messages, and three phone calls to the pharmacy. There’s an exam to study for, 56 assignments to grade, a paper to write, dinner to make.

Send up some thoughts for us this week, because my sweet, last baby is moving from Toddler’s to Preschool and I dissolve into tears every time I think about it. My entire strategy has been to not think about it. It seems silly but she is so grown already, brilliant and wild. Her Toddler’s teacher was there almost two decades ago when my oldest was there, and leaving her feels like I’m leaving home for the first time. We have been seen, fully, and tended to so well over this last year, and we are so much richer for it.

Oh, October.

I have been either a student or a teacher nearly my entire life, and I still forget what is happening until I am right in the middle of it. We were all out for a night walk on one of last week’s warm and leafy days and I said “we better stay out as long as we can it will be,” and I ticked off seven fingers, “seven months before it’s this warm again.” What a shitty thing to say on such a lovely evening.

I’ve been writing about how it took me eight weeks to notice the gorgeous ginkgo tree outside my office window, how good it feels to be in the middle of chaos that’s all moving toward a tangible goal, and what it’s been like to process some of my own history during this academic semester’s (psych, OB/GYN, end-of-life care) coursework and clinical experience.

Anne Helen Petersen’s writing has been so important to me throughout what began as a pandemic and then turned into just life, and she articulates what I’ve been feeling maybe for all of these Octobers so perfectly in her newsletter today.

She says, “Instead of masking that brokenness, lean into it. Give the wound some oxygen. Be vulnerable and needy with one another. Go ahead and consider or even make big life decisions. You’re not acting emotionally; you’re actually listening to your emotions instead of blunting them, and there’s a very real difference. Refuse the rut and your own complacency with it. Life is hard and will always be hard in different ways, but given our advances as a civilization, there’s no reason it should be this hard. Be mad about it. Acquaint yourself with how you’re feeling and refuse to be embarrassed or ashamed with those realities. What feels like a personal regression is usually your mind and body reacting to an ongoing societal one.

I have pages of writing that span from early in pregnancy with my daughter (2018) to this week that keep spiraling around how inarticulate I feel, and how furious and primal that frustration is. And sitting at my desk today, as I keep rolling my chair back to gaze at that ginkgo and forward to spoon August blueberries into my mouth and sprinkling purple across my keyboard; I understand that this is not mom brain or overwhelm, it’s not the cognitive thud that I feel when depression rolls in, or overextension: it is existential. I re-entered the world as a mother of a young child, and found it not just lacking, but purposely cruel and limiting.

My son was born six months before 9/11. I was 20-years-old and quite actually just beginning to learn anything. I had a wide, supportive family and my closest friends did not yet have children. Humiliated and frustrated with the requirements for financial assistance and healthcare, I entered the workforce quickly and without a lot of thought. We had eight years of consistent (enough) political leadership. We had progress and hope.

Everything is different now. I have ambitions and successes I could not have dreamed up. My friends have wonderful children and lives, and my family has shifted so interpersonally and geographically that we were on our own before COVID.

What feels like a personal regression is usually your mind and body reacting to an ongoing societal one.

As I walked through our cramped and dirty living room the other night, depositing dirty dishes in the sink, my partner looked at me and asked, “are you okay?” to which I replied in succinct Roy Kent fashion, all eyebrows, “fuck no.” But I am as okay as I could possibly be in this world, in this moment – and that’s enough.


Friends, I turned down a terrible contract. I attempted to negotiate, the director of online programs not only refused to negotiate, he refused to return a phone call or an email. If he had said, “Heather, we have no staff and no extra money and we really need help” I would have been said “How can I help?” and then immediately regretted it.

I decided it would be great to take a break from teaching in what was sure to be another gnarly semester. I’m still on deck for vaccinating and testing, and it looked like my services (sob) would be needed, and I was content.

Not one day later I was working with a different university and a different department and, the Friday before classes started — I took another teaching position. Just one that I had zero time to prep for. I’ve been doing this for long enough that I knew it would suck to begin without a solid schedule of assignments. I also knew that I had the skills to enter a classroom, meet my students, and start to develop our rapport and skill set on Day 1.

Here are some pictures of me so fucking happy at work:

. .

My students have been patient, my nursing classes are interesting and I’m so happy to see my classmates. The team I joined for work is so kind and helpful. I was even able to attend a live event for my fellowship with the MHC on campus last.

Screeching halt today, though, as Little P was deemed a close contact at daycare and we got the call to stay home at . . . 7:30 a.m. as we were heading out the door. I’m here, now, in my beloved office that smells like ideas and potential. I don’t even care that the window doesn’t really shut. I am gathering my thoughts and a few books as I prepare to work from home for next 10 days. It feels so selfish to articulate just how bereft this all makes me. We are all safe and healthy so far, and that is the greatest worry. But the fear and frazzle and knowing what it has felt like to have space and room to THINK and leaving that all behind is just, a little devastating.

I’ve been chugging along today, working so hard to channel my energy into a solution instead of feeling grumpy about the problem because, well, what the fuck am I going to do about it. P and I will get into a rhythm just like we did the last time. I’ve already lined up very careful help for the one event I couldn’t miss. We will be okay.

I’ve been having Mary Oliver intrusions over the last few months and the most frequent interrupter is this fragment from “The Uses of Sorrow”: this, too, was a gift. I say it over and over again, but as “this, too, is a gift” and open back up to what will happen next.

Two Horses

One of my favorite pieces of movie parental advice comes from Sweet Home Alabama when Reese Witherspoon’s Melanie Smooter/Carmichael finds herself caught between two men – each of whom represent pieces of her essential self. Her father, Fred Ward’s Earl, says to her “you can’t ride two horses with one ass, sugarbean” and I think about this embarrassingly often.

When haven’t I been riding two horses with one ass? I guess the most important point here is that I’m finally . . . over it? Ready to trade in my double-saddle? I’m realizing that I’m a late bloomer in a lot of ways, and I’m so happy that I have figured this out, finally. I don’t have to do everything! I don’t have to stay busy to be happy! It’s okay. How will this work out while finishing my nursing program and continuing to teach? I’m not sure.

I’m wrapping up a summer nursing course that is easily the worst class I’ve ever taken and cannot imagine I will be in a place to do this again in one short month. I’m breezing through another pre-req in a class that is so simple and drawn out that I’m just frustrated I had to spend the money and mental energy on it. I’m learning a lot, still, about how our choices as educators impact students and it’s heavy to reflect on my own choices through this; I hope I never forget what this felt like.

It’s gorgeous out and I had a quick planning meeting with one of my teaching colleagues – the only one I really interact with throughout the year because I’m adjunct and remote, a double-whammy of isolation. We managed to squeeze a social catch-up, departmental review, and course details into thirty minutes. I left giddy with attention and intellectual stimulation and absolutely floating on what it felt like to be treated as a professional whose presence has worth, who has value. At 8 am I had been ready to quit, wholly convinced that I had nothing to contribute. This is a feeling that I’ve been coexisting with since the changeover, and that shift is so dramatic. When I move from nursing student to humanities educator, novice to professional, one campus to another, I wonder if this is a symptom of simply starting from scratch that will be remedied with time, or if it is a reminder that I am supposed to be in one world and not the other.

However it shakes out, it felt great.


An aspiring one-horse gal

Coffee. Hot.

I am not entirely surprised that this dress smells like pee since I pulled it from the actual bottom of the hamper, and I’m not entirely inclined to change my clothes since nothing else fits right now. This feels like an appropriate stage of toddler and pandemic parenting, so here we are.

My daughter, just over two-years-old, has apparently been taking the details of our life in and is now beginning to show us what she’s observed. She can climb out of her crib and open the baby gates, and we’re operating on a whole new level of terror. Recently I let her pad out in the morning, smiling at the actual pitter-patter of her chubby, little feet, and hung behind to see what she would do if she didn’t think I was watching. I heard her open the next gate into the kitchen, and the scratch of a kitchen chair as she pulled it up to the sink. I thought she was going for the faucet (“wash our hands” is a favorite game now, in stark contrast to the kicking and screaming to NOT wash her hands from December-March). I peeked in and watched her poke the button in the center of the coffee maker. The green light appeared as the machine began to drip and hiss. I get the coffee ready every evening before we start bedtime prep, so everything was ready to roll. She beamed at me in the doorway and said, “Coffee, Hot!”

All day long I wondered about what else she has been observing. She hands me my book every time we sit down, and I feel like this is pretty solid. But what else has she been watching? What else has she been learning?

This summer is already off to a vastly different start than last.

Last summer most of the early pandemic terror had subsided for me because she and I were home, alone, indefinitely. Daycare was closed, so I could not take classes or work. We got our groceries and shopping through curbside pick-up, and our social time consisted of City Forest, beach trips, and the library summer reading program through curbside pick up and YouTube. I volunteered to write a book review for Nursing Clio, hired a babysitter for a few hours a week, and set up shop in my barn where the wifi reached. I packed a bag with chargers and snacks and drinks, closed the big doors behind me, and peed out back so that I wouldn’t be spotted. It was not my best writing, and I made a couple of moves there that I instantly regretted, but 12/10 would do again. I put words on a page when I could barely articulate an entire sentence. We were so much less isolated than earlier in the spring, and I thought in July that I had never been so . . . happy. I felt guilty that this peace was inextricably linked to so much suffering, but I couldn’t see the sense in ignoring it either. There was no timeline for an end, so I no longer worried about my career trajectory or my age or retirement. I was still getting paid, though my teaching job had ended. I read outside with my coffee while my daughter took TWO NAPS A DAY, we walked, we visited, I stole a couple hours to myself when I could. Mostly, I rested in a way that had never been available to me. We had food, a home, and time together. I hope my daughter remembers this ease, and that I am able to hold on to some of that as we move forward.

We returned to school and daycare last fall with the caveat that it could all fall apart at any minute. I remained dedicated to my program and work, but my focus stayed (mostly, this was a challenge) on the knowledge that no one was going to look out for us, so that was my primary job. Keep us happy, keep us healthy. My earlier parenting and working days had been so focused on the hustle – always multiple jobs, always trying to the best mom and the hardest worker, but never enough money – and I do not ever want to return to that spirit. I know what I can make do with now; I know what I can do now. When things got hairy it was always because I was trying too hard and not feeling recognized. So I backed off. I knew my name was on the Dean’s list. I knew I ended that semester with a 4.0. So this spring I gave up three hours of studying each week to go back to yoga. Always forward, always back, always myself.

I’ve welcomed some of my old self back in the reading that fills me, yoga that stretches me, and running that pounds enough of the anxiety out to make me a little more pleasant. I do not forget for one single second the privilege that allows me to do this: another adult human who helps pay the bills, enriching and safe daycare, a community that values safety, vaccines, health, time. Part of me thinks that I have earned this, but – hasn’t everyone? Why are we expected to expected to do so much, with so little, for so long?

My son, so much older than my daughter, was there for the hustle, and he spent his formative years watching me work every opportunity that came my way to move us forward. Each year I coached made Christmas happen. Every summer camp I worked paid for his summer programs. The breaks were sweet, but so sparse. We talk about this, the ways in which that frenzy felt necessary but maybe wasn’t, and he just finished a feat of his own by completing his degree while working full-time, both remotely and during a pandemic.

It may not look like it from the outside with all the new career movement, but all of that downtime let identify a way to keep that peace while participating in a varied life that sustains me. I was able to sift through some of my habits and mindsets to see what I could Marie Kondo out of my psyche. It let me take off scarcity and try on a lens of abundance instead. Some things still fit, and some are out just like my old jeans. I know that we cannot will what our children pick up. I can fill our days with intention and still, I will be there. But this feels like an okay place to start.

Hello, old friends.

If you’ve been with me for awhile, it will come as no surprise to you that I am coming to you with yet another Maine problem. Today, it’s these chipmunks. Mainly *ha* the dead one in my closet. We’ve tangled with rodents before and I know the smell will dissipate, but my god. I almost preferred it alive, rattling the doors I had propped closed with an old tote of maternity clothes (an important detail I forgot to tell our dear babysitter “oh, hey; there’s a chipmunk in the closet but don’t worry I don’t think it can get out” would have been the absolute least I could have done).

But here I am, having been away from writing and blogging for so long that WordPress is entirely new and if I take the time to figure it out I won’t have time to get this post up before my daughter wakes. Also, I’ve forgotten how to write sentences. I have survived this past year sending overly long emails, DMs, and texts to my friends and they would like me to take my run-on sentences over here for a bit. They are tired, too. I’m sorry, you’re welcome, thank you?

An overdue list of the things that have kept me alive throughout this past year or so: 1. Graining In podcast has been keeping me company since about March 16, 2020 when I started taking two walks a day with my daughter. I’ve spent SOME years listening to women and honestly, Noah and Matt may be two of the very few men I can listen to at this point. I’ve loved Brene and Cheryl Strayed and Jen Hatmaker even though I am unequivocally not Christian. And this has been great for awhile, but I needed a break from thinking about my feelings and I didn’t really feel like developing myself any further. I’m good. Noah and Matt are whatever the opposite of toxic masculinity is – these dudes are dudes, but they love each other and life and beer. Graining In talks about beer, and I love the technical episodes even though I don’t know shit about beer other than what I like, what I don’t like, and what I can stand if it’s the only thing left in the refrigerator. The latest, #97 with Jamaal Lemon, is a perfect example of the non-tech features that are a little about beer, a little about life, and a lot about curiosity. Full disclosure, Matt is my cousin and I’m damn proud, but this podcast feels like everything good about the world reliably delivered. Also, bonus points because every time someone says to me “I don’t know how you do it!” I want to point to Matt and say “See! This is how we all are!” I am so grateful. 2. This L.L. Bean Hi-Pile Fleece that feels like the adult equivalent of a security blanket. I’ve been wearing it since early December when I thought I was going to devolve into a pile of old chicken nugget dust and all I needed was a series of good hugs. I want them in all of the colors but they are sold out. If you have one, I am a size small, regular. It is close enough; I’m still here, and I am in no way ready to re-enter this world without above fleece and a winter cap for armor. 3. Reading fiction. I was a high school English teacher in my last life but remembered that I am a reader for my entire life, and this may be the largest part of my remaining identity. People escape into a million different things – stories are mine. I have a decent inventory of never-been-reads that I’ve been trucking through. Over the last months I was really floundering, spending all of my time studying or flat on my back watching tv. What I thought was going to be a disaster – my daughter learning how to climb out of bed – was so easily transformed when I realized that she would STAY IN BED if I just stayed on mine and read a book until she fell asleep. Now, I’m back. A couple of chapters a night, more at weekend naptime, and I’m good. Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior just did me in.

In the same who-was-I-before-this and who-am-I-now vein, I’ve been working on some small, easy meals and I started attending classes at my yoga study a couple of months ago. Each of these things has helped immensely. I’ve seen my friends some. I met up with a couple of mentor/friends and I left a visit yesterday smiling because this person will absolutely not tolerate me living a life that is less than I deserve and maybe the only thing I’ve needed all along was just, that. Everyone experiences love in different ways, and this is exactly what love feels like to me.

You’ll be hearing more from me soon as I wrap up a few courses and move into preparing for a two-semester fellowship with the McGillicuddy Humanities Center at the University of Maine. I’m a third year nursing student now, but this fellowship will, I hope, bring together my earlier teaching and academic life, my time as a Maine Writing Project Teacher Consultant (2015), and my experience moving into a new profession. I’m terribly excited, and terribly anxious.

Please watch Ted Lasso.

Everything I’ve accomplished this year is because our amazing day care.

We are having thoughts about “mama” here and in a lot of other spaces. It has been in every bio I’ve ever had and I’ve been slowly changing them in the same way that I stopped using my middle initial when the last prez was using J. as his. It wasn’t that I was any less proud of that name, but that association was less than what I was going for. More on this later.

Every time I hear someone say “summer is coming” it feels like GoT “winter is coming” because maybe I’m not at all ready. If you see me – give me one beer and I’ll make sense by the end of it.



Here, here.

A little while back I was mindlessly scrolling and came upon a post that said something to the effect of “Remember when what you have now was what you always wanted” and, while I hate this kind of trend-spiration, that sums up the entirety of my life right now. When I’m totally losing my shit I tell myself, “Here, here” because everything I need is truly, right here.


I say “my daughter” in the same way you say a new crush’s name as often as you can in conversation. I still can’t believe it. I look at her and think “I have a daughter” and more often than not, I can put the enormity of what it means to be a women in this world aside and just focus on the fact that she is here and she is mine.

She made her presence known just after I had given up and chosen a solid plan “B”, a post-active-parenting plan. Because this was my fourth pregnancy in two years, I wasn’t confident that she would stick. I went about my life, terrified in every direction but committed to not re-routing my entire life and identity when I had no reason to believe the pregnancy would be viable. Even my baby shower felt ominous, and it was difficult to hold the prospects of joy and loss simultaneously.

Fear looks like cancelling your very necessary scheduled c-section two hours before you’re supposed to check in.

It’s so easy to live and parent from fear. I am worried about dropping her or other people dropping her most of every day. The other fears creep in, but largely I can pull myself back to here. My son is so much older that I remember almost nothing about babies, but I do know that having seen him through to now is a constant reminder of just how quickly this will pass. I’m not necessarily finding bliss in the fussy baby nights and the 98% reduction in my productivity, but I do have some context to know that it is temporary.

We’ve been together for six months now. At first I was feral. I didn’t want to be around anyone, even family. I pictured myself as some kind of animal who could not be reasoned with. I was too scared to co-sleep, but it was painful to have her asleep six inches away from me. I still spend most of the time she is sleeping looking at her or pictures of her. I scroll back to the beginning, notice that my fresh, milky newborn is now a wild, milky baby, and wonder what she will learn tomorrow.

Her father and I call her our retirement baby. We both had challenging babies our first time(s) around, and she’s been so content, so happy. Not at all like the Doris Lessing-style Fifth Child I was worried about.

She is sick today, and asleep in front of me; her cheeks look exactly like they did the day she was born. These are likely to be the last few minutes I have to myself for the next 24 hours, so time for homework.



Solstice Square Mom

December 21, 2017


Crumpling newspaper to start tonight’s fire wasn’t intentionally symbolic. The house was quiet, dogs outside, and I had already swept the floor so that I wasn’t sitting in a pile of wood chips and sand and dog hair. But as I separated the glossy ads (they don’t burn, friends) from the newsprint, my eyes scanned the pages as they always do. Some afternoons I spread the paper back out. I read a piece I missed, or re-read one that was especially interesting and it takes a ridiculous amount of time to start the fire. Tonight I scanned, and I thought about this year, and I closed my eyes. I used it all, the last of the assorted New York Times and Bangor Daily News that we had stacked up in preparation for the winter. I crossed my legs and rolled my shoulders and touched the lighter to the paper. 
If winter solstice is a time of preparation, change and growth, I am ready. The internet says that today, December 21st, is the worst day of the year. At the risk of tragedy in the next 3.5 hours, I know that there were worse days in 2017. This is bad, but not the worst. 

We decided this week that my boy, who looks 32 but whose frontal lobes are woefully undeveloped, will split his time between my house and his father’s. I have an essay from a day in 2012 where I made the call and his father didn’t answer; this year he answered. The calls were similar. “Help,” I would say. “What I am doing isn’t working”. It’s true – nothing is working. My interventions and appointments and lectures have left me feeling like a caricature of the squarest mom in Squaresville. I keep checking myself. “Do I really believe this?” I want to know on a full scale, like when he is actually 32, that this might have helped. That I’m not making a cosmic mistake.   I do believe in the expectations for our household, for the way we treat ourselves and others. I think he does, too. Otherwise I would not be fighting. 

Wise advisors of mine once told me to work when Colby was small. “Wait until middle and high school,” they told me, “you’ll need the time then”. I find myself passing a different flavor of this advice onto my friends. “Save your energy,” I tell them, “I wasted a decade refusing to let my kid eat sugar cereal on school mornings. You know what doesn’t fucking matter? That. Save your energy”. 

So we are here, in different houses but tucking ourselves in for longest night of the year. We need this long night to think and rest and shift. 


“I’m all done growing,” I sobbed to my mother earlier this year. I can remember crying in front of her (outside of teenaged rage and no the irony is not lost here but I don’t want to talk about it) exactly zero times before this year. I’ve lost count in 2017. “I don’t want any more lessons,” I told her. “I’m done learning. I’m done”. 

I did not get to be done. 


On this longest of nights, I have the smallest window of clarity. I am not out of energy because the universe is not out of energy. Without the worst days I would not have been forced to look at all the pieces of my life and adjust accordingly. And there are people all around this kid of mine, holding him up and cheering him on. Different is not wonderful, but maybe it isn’t worst. 

A winter solstice has never been more welcome, not for the dark, but for the light that I have to trust is coming. 

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. 





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.