Sunday, November 19, 2017

On what to do next

I've been thinking about what new direction to take my blog. I've run out of steam on the topics I've given myself, or more accurately, in what I'm comfortable writing about in a public way. Teaching has become more challenging than in my early and its effect on attention span has played out dismally. I'm grateful I didn't have a phone as a student--the distraction would have kept me from discovery of the world away from home, of new friends. At the time, I wouldn't have realized the price I would have paid.

Where I move on to from here is a mystery. I don't mean in my teaching life, but here, on these pages. I like to jot down ideas and think that at least someone else is reading them. But I don't like that my recent posts seem superficial and contrived. I have essay ideas that take a self discipline and commitment, very different than does blogging.

The sexual harassment brouhaha--I want to jump into that one. Not because I have names or people to call out. I have a sense that the harassment and reactions are a symptom of something much deeper.   But .I digress. At midnight, a little digression, just a bit, is good for my insomnia soul.

Friday, November 10, 2017

On one year ago yesterday

It's hard to believe that it was one year ago yesterday when the world came to an end. At least that's how I felt after the 2016 election . I remember not being able to process the result. I remember my mind shutting down and how awful that felt.

Yesterday, IRL the election seemed a tiny memory. I guess that's what is meant by moving on. I made new artwork and posted it to my etsy site. I showed it to the eighth graders who I subbed for yesterday. "I hate the word 'peace,'" one said. She made a V with her fingers and rolled her eyes. "I don't hate the meaning, just the word. It's so cliche." I guess she's right. In too many ways.

Yesterday! Gratitude should have been thy name!  If for nothing else, it wasn't one year ago. IRL, energized students lived their lives. I walked with a bounce through my hectic day. But I looked over my shoulder and recalled one year ago yesterday, when the world became incomprehensible.

Yesterday was so much better. I painted rainbows. Believed in peace, even thought it's true. Peace is a cliche.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

On taking it all in

For the past week, the brick and cement that comprises FIT has come alive. I walk past and stare; students with paintbrush in hand transform this dreary section of the city, just blocks from Penn Station. The painters are more fun to watch then the designs that flow from their dreams to the surface.

Which is not to say their work isn't brilliant. It is. But I get a vicarious buzz from my brief imagining of myself at 20 or 30, with paint on my brow in deep concentration. Their intensity and fierceness become my own. For a few moments, I'm in love with the city.

On days when the unexpected rises up and grabs me, there is no other place I'd rather be. Manhattan is gorgeous with its sheer ability to be home to so many contrasts. Overflowing garbage cans on street corners emit toxic fumes; texting zombies ask for nothing of me, but get under my skin; and then, the joy of street art, outdoors--insistent upon being seen.

In a few weeks, my students will take a final exam based on readings about Manhattan. There are eight million New Yorkers in the five boroughs and eight million New York Cities, says writer Colson Whitehead. Each one of us has our own experience, our own loves, our own hates, and the things we barely notice--until they're gone. What was the store that came before the Starbucks? The Barnes & Noble? The pharmacies and banks that arrived enmasse, in spite of the recession? What was there before the store that became the store that became another? Had we known at the time its days were numbered, we would have treated it with more respect says Whitehead. At this moment, my favorite Lower East Side yarn store passes before my eyes, the only place it will ever live, since it too became a revolving door of others.

In a half hour I'll leave for work. I'm being observed today; I hope it's not a bad omen that I'm not nervous. Too much confidence isn't always good. Nerves make me better, more genuine. At least they did in my writing life. I miss that raw, desperate feeling of the necessity of every single word. Like the outdoor painters at FIT. Each brushstroke, standing on a ladder in the dark at 10:00 p.m., getting it all out, making magic. 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

On starting anew

Yesterday 7:30 a.m. I sat on the #4 on my way to the Bronx to teach an early class. I looked up from a handful of student papers and noticed an array of college ads. Filled with promise and purpose, they touted: Your future awaits. Discover your potential. I felt seduced.

The thrill and joy of beginning came to me in a wave of nostalgia. I remembered being thirty years old, returning to college and believing the world awaited. I was ten years later than my peers, in a hurry to catch up. I didn't milk all I could have out of my courses. It went so slow, until poof--it was over. I had my degree. One thing checked on my list of to-dos. There were so many -- start a career I loved and live a great life were at the very top. Honorable endeavors, difficult to pull off for the complicated and serious young woman I was.

Now. Many years later, I don't have lists. There's only what I need to do (keep teaching) and what I want (great life, still, but not so plotted.) I'm in my tenth year of teaching some form of Freshman English. In starting this semester at a new college, surprises make my work life come alive. For starters, there's the beauty. On this sprawling Bronx campus I'm greeted with acres of greenery and hills, open sky and old stone buildings. Each Friday when I walk through the gates, I breathe deep and gear up for the trek across campus.

I walk past Theater and Music, then the gymnasium, then This Hall and That Hall, the football stadium, and finally I arrive. I linger at the door to my classroom, take in the streaks of sunlight as they filter through the shades, spill onto the old-style wooden desks. I'm so happy here, I feel silly. My students are  nursing majors. We read essays and articles that I've never before taught, never before read. I stay one reading ahead of them.

Starting new is a gratifying way to bring an uneventful summer to a close. In July, without a summer class, I signed on with an agency to do background work in movies. The agency's calls were spotty and always on days when I was at my part-time gig. So much for the essay I would write about my days in film. And then two weeks ago -- if fall semester hadn't started up, I would have been a guest at a Bat-Mitzvah in Orange is the New Black. 

From what I hear, being an extra is grueling. Twelve-hour days. Six a.m. clock in. Not much pay. But, still. I want to explore, go to hair and make-up, begin another new thing. Especially when I'd never in my life, written this on a to-do list.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

On everything

To add to the "big break" post below, the student writer did indeed sign a contract. May the publisher-bidding wars begin! This girl is on her way to a very new life--or at least through a very exciting door.

I'm inspired and a teensy bit envious. I'm in search of my own new door, one that sparkles in the way the start of my fervently wanted careers once did. I don't yet know what my new door will look like, how hard or easy it will be to turn the knob. Maybe I can polish up the careers I already have. Get my own students book deals or jobs or simply help open doors they hadn't considered--maybe (hopefully) I already have. 

Present time concern: I woke up this morning thinking about pocketbooks. Not dreaming of them, but rather seriously considering if I had one to match the outfit I would wear on Thursday (see photo below) This is a strange concern for me, because when in doubt, I grab the backpack and that's that. But it's also not unusual that at this particular time I'm thinking of outfits and matching this and that's, because I'm traveling to a time when these things super-obsessed me.

On Thursday eve, I'm attending a high school reunion. I'm not the reunion type, simply because I always fear I don't have much to show for myself (my self esteem plummets to those hazy not-so lazy days) and I'm not the rah rah rah type--but, then, that's not exactly true. Once upon a time I was. And when people look beyond my librarian glasses and love for hard-cover dictionaries, after they say "you were a cheerleader?!" they see my go-team smile which hasn't washed off in, well, 40+ years. And it will be right at home at this very specific get-together, a cheerleader reunion.

When I first saw the invitation, I was overcome with dread (high school self-esteem). I "rented" a grandchild (friend Debby's adorable little one), pulled myself together (along with the cute outfit that has no matching pocketbook), and got into it. I created a late sixties playlist--Dionne Warwick, the Beatles, the Supremes, Fifth Dimension, Herman's Hermits, the Temps, and the list of all my favorites goes on.

What felt two months ago like an event I couldn't possibly attend has taken on the warmth of nostalgia and reminiscence. Who will I see? I imagine, once insecure girls, too, who've grown into themselves. Who will I be? Proud of who I've become (leaning in that direction) or aware of my flaws? (Uh uh.) 

High school is the door I'll stand before this week. I'll turn the knob and step inside. I'll likely wear the yellow skirt and top that has no matching pocketbook. And no one will care.
(I'm second from the top right, the one with the fold through her face.)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

On someone else's big break

I have the chills. I'm not sick, just super-excited for a CUNY student whose life is about to change in ways she can't imagine. And I'm remembering too when the possibility of fame came knocking at my door, via the exact same vehicle.

My friend and colleague taught a children's lit class at Bronx Community College this summer. Her students, many of whom are immigrants, wrote books informed by their childhoods in their home countries. Katherine kept telling me about one book about a parrot who flies to New York from the Dominican Republic, seeking America's fortunes. As the book moves along, one thing leads to another, and mangoes enter the scene. When I closed my eyes, colors popped behind my lids--orange, red, blue--I began to dream about going to DR, the heck with the U.S. (for more than mangoes, but that's another story).  

Well, Katherine must have seen brightness, too. She contacted a writer at The New York Times and told him about her class, the stories, especially the one about parrots and mangoes. He saw color, too, I'm certain. Because an article about the young woman was in yesterday's "Side Street" column.

"She's going to get a book deal," I said with confidence. And today--one day later--Katherine called me. "You're a genius!" she said. "A top NYC agent wants to represent her!" Not a genius, just been there, and I know the power of the Times. But still, I get a wonderful onset of the chills. Lovely little pin pricks tickling my arms, my scalp. How great for the student. And, too, for community college students, so many of whom don't see glitter ahead.

Deep sigh. Pen to page. Fingers to keyboard. Show up. Every day or as often as possible. Not just at the writing but for myself. Whatever the creative impulse. Many years ago, when my call came, I wasn't ready for the agents. It wasn't because I hadn't shown up for the writing--I had--two three times a day, and when I was on fire and had the time, all day. But my inner work--the fixative that writing served me--hadn't yet solidified. 

Agents. Book deals. They're not part of my dreams anymore. Writing time has been replaced by the gym, the precious 40 minutes on the elliptical when I put on the headphones, tune out and sweat. For the past month I've noticed that I get that runner's high, or at least, am emotional and physical putty all day. Why stir my well with words, when they always find their way to something inside, not-yet-fixed?

An RSVP to a family wedding sits on a shelf near my door. I haven't seen these cousins in years; they likely think I won't go. I'm in conflict. It's the first time since the election I would be at political odds with a sea of people. It's a traditional ultra-orthodox affair--something to experience, engage in, respect. I want to rise above that which blocks me. Or at least, put it aside. It's the "right" thing to do. But I'm not quite sure.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

On practice

I learn a lot about practice through my painting classes--most importantly, without practice, there is no good art--in fact no bad art, for me. And "bad art" is ultra necessary in order to get to the good, to align with my process. There are students in my beginners class that are impressive in their advancement. They're slow, methodical. My painting is brisk, rushing to get the picture down, the exact opposite of how I watercolor.  My teacher, always with the right words at the ready, says, quick is good. You're going to go over this when it dries, define, shade; you had to do this to get to that.

I haven't been practicing at home this summer, save once. All I have to show is the canvas to the right. I attempted to copy in acrylics, a picture of a floral arrangement done in watercolors (Deb Watson painter). I look at my reproduction and say, not too bad. Now comes the real work. Define the flowers, go over the first layer to shade and create dimension. Mimic my teacher, who with a flick of his wrist, a petal appears, a real flower is born! I memorize how he holds the brush, whisks it over the bubble of a flower(?) I've done. I try, but amnesia sets in within seconds How does he do that? Question to self: can I bring a similar attitude of acceptance and grace to my students when classes start? Demo demo demo--and lots of practice.

My teacher is always in beginner's mind. I carry my beginner's mind to yoga practice. In fact, yoga is all about practice for me, but it wasn't always so. My first two years in yoga class I watched my neighboring yogis, became frustrated when I couldn't align my posture, balance, twist my arms and legs as they did. It wasn't until I read Donna Farhi's Bringing Yoga to Everyday Life that I learned, the poses were only 5% of the point. Perfect was only perfect when I could do the pose without pain. Perfect was perfect when I practiced against a wall or with props, or sat it out. The perfect practice--using my inner wisdom about what's right for me, taking that mindset off the mat and into the painting studio and the rest of life. And practicing that every day.

This nonteaching summer has led me to spend many afternoons at my new favorite city hangout--Bryant Park. Specifically the backgammon tables. One of the teachers spent some time explaining  strategy to me and philosophizing about life. On one particular day, my dice were loving me--doubles, almost every throw--lucky, I said, modestly shrugging. The teacher said something like, there is no such thing as luck, unless you show up to receive it. I'm not kidding. My world is filled with Buddhas. They keep me practicing.

Friday, June 16, 2017

On becoming a good teacher

In my last post I wrote about having had a good spring semester. What contributed to that was having had a course theme that I felt passionate about--activism and societal change. That passion energized and inspired me. I discovered the other day in my painting class, another route to being a better teacher--become a student. It doesn't matter what subject and whether the teacher is great or awful.

When I studied memoir writing in grad school--I learned what kind of teacher not to be--my first writing teacher talked about her life stories--the basis of her numerous memoirs--at least 50% of the time. I didn't have the guts to talk to the program director. Instead I looked across the table at my one friend, we rolled our eyes, and swallowed our disappointment. But I learned a lot-- good and even great writers aren't by default good or great teachers. And, too, I made a mental note to never do that to my own students. It's their class. Their money. Their time.

A few years ago I began studying watercolor painting. I learned from my teacher that patience and practice were the road to talent. She said it over and over (in not those exact words.) I have little patience, no room in my apartment to Practice...or this is the lie I tell myself. And I firmly believe there is no painting talent in me waiting to emerge.  But I brought that philosophy into my English classroom, and I became (at least that day) a better teacher. At least one who understands when a subject doesn't come naturally.

Now, I'm taking an acrylic painting class. My teacher is--I apologize in advance for the word I'm about to use--Awesome! Yes, he is from the school of lemons to lemonade, a thick mess of green on green paint strokes into shadows and light. For two hours a week, I'm immersed in a world where mistakes and messes and screw-ups don't exist. That eye-sore of paint? Necessary in order to layer and develop.

I wanted to take a pad and write all the mantras down. I want to bring them to class in September and tell students-who-fear-English class (which is 90%), "I know and feel your pain." Instead I will bring them a montage of photos--the one I took at 79th and Amsterdam, the painting in process (above right) and still in process (below left). 


Monday, May 29, 2017

On knowledge

I woke up this morning thinking about Martin Luther King's 1961 speech, "Love, Law, and Civil Disobedience." Lofty a.m. thoughts are in complete contrast to my usual egocentric waking self, especially on non-work days.

But this morning I was languishing in end of semester freedom--grades posted, no emails from students complaining about grades, the whole thing--over and done. And with that, I thought of all I'd learned this semester, and here's where MLK comes in. His speech was required freshman reading. As we unpacked the dense 8-page excerpt (single spaced!), we talked about protests and sit-ins and what it means to civilly disobey the status quo.

The reading was a perfect entree into discussing the political situation that is upon us. I pounded away at current and past actions people have taken when they had no rights or their rights were threatened--the Women's March, Black Lives Matter, rallies for immigrants and on and on. But when I asked students to contribute to the list, so few had ideas.  Have you signed any petitions on social media? I asked. Yes, a few nodded. Been to any rallies? One or two. Are you happy with the status quo? No no no no no. There was one outspoken activist -- an environmentalist, animal rights worker, one socially aware and vocal student. You're in college, I said to the rest. This is your world. And that's when I remembered myself as a college student, a very long distance from activism and protest. I wasn't happy with the status quo because my generation wasn't, not because of my own convictions, the few I had.       

When someone I've just met asks what I do, I say I teach. Lately I add, I don't know if anyone learns anything. I had a passionate teaching semester. I was riled up about world injustices, big and small.  We talked about Schindler, Malala Yousafazi--courageous people who challenged laws. We read about a river in New Zealand that a tribe fought to preserve--and they won. The river was given legal person status. (True!) I retained all of this, think about it, am energized. Did my students learn anything though? How do I know? Maybe knowledge will crop up here and there when they least expect it--as it often does for me.

As much as being a student (in school, in life) is an opportunity to learn, teaching is a hundred times more so. My brain pops with the histories we uncovered; I'm dizzy with the thrill of waking up from a deep sleep and thinking of Martin Luther King. Maybe that's the real payoff, the real reason I do this. Although semesters don't always end like this one, on an up note.

Summer is almost here. When my friend K. leaves for Budapest on Monday, I will not be on the plane. Eastern Europe, or any part of Europe, isn't happening for me, at least as far as I know today. Another friend left for Prague yesterday. I said, send my love to the Charles Bridge. This summer, I'll go with the tide or the flow or whatever it is that pulls me in the right direction.

Monday, April 17, 2017

On setting in

This morning I awoke with the answer to something I'd been questioning, right there--clear, written across my brain. The past few months, my life has meandered My work life has been a juggling act. Personal life, too much to chance. A 25-year relationship recently threw itself in the air and hasn't yet landed. I hold my breath a lot.

The answer that presented itself this a.m. was to accept solid options. Those weren't the exact words, but that was the gist. And whenever an answer is the first to greet me when I awake, I trust it. This morning that meant, sending off an email about a work decision. Sometimes the letting go-ness of email is a blessing. There's no addressing an envelope. No walk to the mailbox. No fingers lingering at the swinging drop panel. No space for the demon of overthinking. There's just send. Done.

I have two days before returning from Spring Break. There's prep work to do. Upon return, students will be prepped for the departmental final. That means two dense essays to work through: one by Martin Luther King on civil disobedience, the other by Sarah Pike on environmental activism. The first is clear--I don't worry about students making sense of it. The second feels far away from their own experience. They're city kids concerned with day-to-day practicality. That's not to say they don't care about animal rights and trees, but sometimes those are luxury ideals.

For a few weeks I had a photo of myself posted on the right. And with that, I was unable to write. My anonymity (false--I know) was stripped away. I couldn't write while I was there, looking at myself, looking at you. Writing doesn't come easy to me--as it hasn't for the past few years. And so photo gone. Easy fix.

A lot to reckon with last week. Jewish holidays always throw me off balance. Passover has so many deep and beautiful memories attached. I couldn't shake them while having a simple Seder with friends. There was the Seder before me; the one in my mind. Like the two essays my students and I must make sense of. One so tangible (my memory Seder) One, unfamiliar and distant.

I'll end with this. I found my painting niche. I opened an "Etsy" store and am delighting in the colors and the sheer happiness of finding my niche. Because this post feels so somber, I'm including a colorful photo and a preview of what's on sale.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

On diversions

I was wrong. I naively thought my anxiety-filled teaching days were over. Two classes that I've taught often enough to need minimal prep and students on track--I celebrated winning the adjunct lottery! And then.

Emails from a student who is off track arrived. Please please please...please please please kept coming. As I read I was riding on an out of control bus, not stopping at intersections, swerving across lanes. And clutching onto the pole, I wondered...why do I read emails after 5:00 p.m.? After all, the student is doing what students do.

I have developed a nervous tick that relates to the immediacy of technology, that I file in the addiction bin. I noticed this when I began reading books on my ipad. The time of day appears above the text, and so when I read I got in the habit of looking at the time. Then I read a real book. What a shock to find myself looking at the top of the page for the time, for a button, for a something to click.

The other day I listened to and watched a youtube video of Tara Brach, a favorite Buddhist teacher who gives weekly talks which she tapes. I watched on my ipad while simultaneously googling on my laptop her website, and read about her other lectures. I saw the craziness. . Ah...I long for present moment peace, but I think I may be allergic to it.

I digress. My student. I'll wait until working hours. I'll take a deep breath. Not take it personally (as if!).I'll go back to sleep or paint: the two activities where I do live in the now. Where I'm blanketed in color and comfort. On the right, some new painterly doodlings. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

On middle of the night musings

Ah...sweet sleep. It doesn't want anything to do with me. Not this morning (evening?), as I've been up since 2:00, and in a wide-awake, forget about going-back-to-sleep way. Checking in with the demon Facebook doesn't help my cause. In fact, the political news that fills my news feed, my own timeline that I add to (just one way to release the pain of watching every civil right fall away), shocks me awake.

And so, I take my seat. Try to come up with something. I'll begin with yesterday. In the tutoring center, politics take a backseat, in fact, no seat. There is no room, and that's a relief. A few students fill the chairs around the tutoring table. An Asian student struggles to write a literary criticism essay about a story I never read. This is her second semester of English, which means she's been through the basics. But I'm at a loss as to how to help her. I'm not a trained English as a Second language teacher. As noted, I don't know the work she's writing about. The assignment is vague: write a response to the story. All the student brings to me is her essay--the one her professor returned to her with no written notes, save one: revise. I can help her with grammar. However, I think I'd be fixing more than teaching.

I'm frustrated. So is she. And that's the part that's so hard to remember when teaching. Students whose first language isn't English go through incredible brain-work, translating language, grammar rules, pronunciation and teacher's instructions. While the students may seem to be not getting it, they are miles ahead of their professors, including me.

And yet. The student bursts out crying because she feels beneath her peers. She tells me her professor asked her, How did you ever pass English 101? I have to confess. I've wondered that too when I've had students with poor English skills. But I've never said it to them. I never will.  But with that question out on the table, I finally know how to help. I tell her, if I went to school in Spain or Korea or Turkey, I'd have to drop out. All that translating and trying. I'd forget college. I couldn't do it.  She smiles and takes the tissue I offer her, although she's still tearful, doesn't believe me.

And so, yesterday at the tutoring table it was my turn to learn.  My turn to think about whether my own assignments are clear enough for non-native English speakers, whether my attitude reveals my frustration or admiration. I think it seesaws between the two. But present moment: I urge the student to visit the ESL lab, to get the help that will really teach her. She thanks me and another student arrives. 

My teaching life has settled into a comfortable routine. Two courses--have I mentioned the utter pleasure? The low low stress of it? I fill in a few hours as a tutor; that is harder work than I imagined. Each student brings a new assignment to wrap my brain around. Sometimes the hardest part is not criticizing their professor for the tangled up instructions. I believe in simplicity--I keep my assignments in the realm of realistic. I hope I'm not shortchanging students. .

It's now almost 4:00 a.m., a decent time to greet the day, at least in my world of loving the early  morning when I own the world.  Later, I will enter a lovely universe: a private school where the walls are plastered with posters.  (see right).

Monday, February 20, 2017

On tossing off the flannel

I wouldn't have thought that the movie, The Devil Wears Prada, would bring me to my knees (so to speak). Not feeling well yesterday, I binged on Lifetime movies. All I wanted was mindless entertainment, a restful way to wile away the long hours of wishing I felt better. But, alas. Life had something else in store for me.

In the movie, Andy is a journalist fresh out of school, wanting a magazine job (I relate, big time). She takes a spot way out of her league -- not better, just wildly different (still relating). She learns a lot of hard life lessons along the way about loyalty, betrayal, ethics, and...spoiler alert...ultimately she fine tunes her moral compass (relating, still). She ends up taking her seat at the write (right?) writer's desk...showing up for the work she has cherished and longed for.  She arrives where she's supposed to be.

At that moment, I burst out crying. Yes, I was wrapped up in a flannel blanket and my resistance was low. I was going nowhere. Fast. But I think what I saw in that moment is that I've been wrapped in flannel, in terms of aspirations and so many things, for a long time. I recalled that amazing-beyond-words feeling of taking my seat at the writer's desk, eons ago. I remembered the utter joy of being welcomed by editors and teachers and family and friends and mostly, myself. I knew deeper than I'd ever known anything where I belonged. What a feeling to no longer be lost.

I cried yesterday because I'd forgotten all that. I cried because I'd lost that feeling. And I cried because I wanted it back, and didn't even know I was lost, again. What was once brand new, can never be so shiny again has been my mantra. The fantastic performer Peter Allen would differ with his lyrics, Everything old is new again. And so, maybe?

Right now, George Benson's Breezin plays in my background, proving Allen's words. My favorite jazz musician of the 70s and 80s, has come back to life in my blanket-half-on-half-off world. Maybe my utterly, dizzyingly shiny new/old thing is write (right?) in front of me, no messing around, no whining that I'm not in the mood. hard to drag myself to the chair (which by the way I'm already sitting on). So hard to believe joy may follow. So hard to do even if joy doesn't follow. There are no guarantees, not one, not a penny's worth, when one tosses off the flannel for whatever their heart calls for.

I loved those tears I cried yesterday, the depth of emotion, the unblanketedness of it all.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

On catching up

It's been too long since I've checked in here; I apologize, mostly to myself. It is in this space that I take inventory, piece together the different aspects of my life, find a coherent whole. And this process is always nurturing. Yet, I've squandered this time, obsessing over politics (and not in a good way) and looking over my shoulder at decisions past, until I'm a pillar of salt.

Ah...moving forward. I've settled into my new work routine of teaching only two courses at one college. I am finally on the road to being the teacher I've tried to be -- focused and present for my students. The difference in having an allegiance to one college as opposed to three is profound, at least in adjunctville, the town where I reside. Emails from students arrive in my inbox, and I smile. They care about their grade. They ask about assignments. They explain absences. They use commas and periods correctly! No lowercase i, which would drive me hugely ( bigly?) crazy.

Teaching two classes at one school (did I mention, only!) is akin to living on another career universe. My mind doesn't reel from worries of what I need to do, didn't do or incorrectly did. I'm not a well of resentment...(adjuncts, you understand). On non-teaching days, I sub at a lovely little private school, where students call me Sandy, tell me I'm their favorite sub (I know, it's butter, but still...), ask for my help with their essays, and I take home zero papers, write zero plans. Thus far, it's all working; evil eye, kenehura, we're very well acquainted. It's time for you to look elsewhere--or better, close that eye. For good.

Last weekend I went to a rally for immigrants' rights. I'm proud to say, I stood in the rain with hundreds of others, holding a sign in one hand and an umbrella in the other. I was there with HIAS, an organization I love. Its values and work are close to my heart: support for Syrian and all immigrants. If my students held up their country's flags, we'd be a sea of colors. I would hold two--the country where I was born in and the one that holds a piece of my heart.

Alas...I have found a way to segue to thoughts of my summer trip. I've begun to take mental excursions away from the political mess to the second half of my soul's journey. Last summer it was Prague with a day into the greater Czech Republic (at right). This summer I'm thinking of (note: I didn't yet commit...) Slovakia. I hear Bratislava is an Eastern European gem. My compass aims there; the jury is still out on the remainder. Back to Prague is a strong contender. We'll see. (Evil eye, you've been remanded. Just in case (and I always prepare for Just-in-case), my mother bequeathed me anti-evil eye potions.)

Saturday morning calls. My NIA teacher ends each class by saying "Take three steps into your day." And so, I begin.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

On the brain/mind dilemma

In the early days of my teaching life, I read an essay with my class, "The Mind's Eye" by Oliver Sacks. In it, he asked, "does the brain control the mind, or does the mind control the brain?" It was a wonderful question to chew on and dissect, and too, in full disclosure, it was the first time I had thought of the brain and mind as separate and distinct. My class and I didn't come to a certain thesis about it, in spite of Sacks' numerous examples of people he'd met who were clinically blind, yet continued to see vivid images. I'm being vague, because I don't quite recall the fine tunings of the essay. What I do recall is asking people for a long time after what they thought, tossing out the question as though it were a party ice breaker. I may have been flippant, but I wanted a solid truth.

I'm thinking about this now, because I'm certain it is my mind that is desperate for sleep at 1:17 a.m., but my brain is flooded with way too much thought. There is no question. Brain in the driver's seat. Mind a cranky baby strapped in for the ride.

In addition to brain on "acid" is the artifice of light rain on my rooftop, made possible by a sleep tape, which my brain (and mind!) aren't fooled by for a second. For one, I have a ceiling, not a rooftop, and two, there is no rain pinging my windows. Outside, the night is quiet, dry, with an occasional whoosh of traffic.

I'm thinking too much, too intensely about other people's plights, shared with me tonight in emails and phone calls. A friend stuck in a job he hates. I wanted to tell him to quit, but didn't. Another friend having a parent/child issue that makes me squirm. Loosen the reigns, a voice inside screamed. And then I caved and said it.

I suffer when I don't say what I'm thinking...not in a rude, bossy way, just, let's say, gentle honesty (I would guess my mind cares much more about this.) My brain tells me I'm thinking about other people because my own life needs attention (circa therapy 101). I'm scared. I've avoided the newspapers since the start of the year. My mind can't take it in. My brain is parked at the curb, empty.

I miss the rhythm of work. Not the stress, but the space it took up in my brain/mind.  I've returned to painting and have focussed for the past two (3?) days on birds. The photo to the left is a hummingbird by fellow student and painter, Lindsay Wright. She loaned it to me, so that I could practice and get back to finding my own technique. On the right are my renditions.

For the record, my brain did the work. My mind had a good time.and didn't judge. Then I went off the program and painted this on slippery, yupo paper. My friend tells me it is creatures arising from a gelatin gooey substance. Interpretations are so much more interesting than the real thing, in this case, flowers.