Monday, June 27, 2016

at·ten·tion (noun) by andrea

at·ten·tion (noun)

The act of close or careful observing or listening

As in: Lately, I am paying more attention to conversations being had and questions being asked about what is going on in America.  Conversations around rights, freedom, justice, racism, sexism, zenophobia and homophobia; inequality in education, housing, pay. The list goes on and on and on: imprisonment of the mind, body and soul; government and corporate corruption; victim shaming and blaming. One would think that acts of and conversations about brutality, of any kind, in the 21st century in the western world would not be polarizing.  But it is. Another subject from which my attention cannot escape.  

Everyone is talking about, writing about, hollering about something valid, worthy and crucial for the survival of someone, maybe even us all.  I don’t really watch the news outlets or read the papers, but somehow all of these issues enter my consciousness and cry out for me to wake up and stand at attention.  At a time in our country when as a collective we seem wealthier, more erudite, more spatially integrated, my attention keeps being drawn to the poor, the undereducated, the marginalized.  Recently, most of the books, articles, tweets, posts and videos crossing my desktop, newsfeeds and suggestions you may find interesting are about these issues.  

The truth is, there is a major part of me that would like NOT to pay attention.  I would like to bury my head in the sand. It is summer break from my demanding yet rewarding job of teaching, and I would like to be relaxing on the beach with a soft read or hanging out with my friends sipping near grown-up drinks living, for the moment, as if we do not have responsibilities.  Instead, my eyes, ears and heart are being assaulted by a bugle call, a reveille of sorts, to pay attention to what is going on in the world today. This seems to be a theme of my most recent summers. I have my own life and the lives of my loved ones to pay attention to also. My grandmother is aging.  My children are transitioning into adulthood and this signals a life change for my husband and me.  There are physical, emotional and spiritual needs to be met all around me. I have friendships to tend. I have prayers to pray and books to read. I have family reunions and stories to write. 

The struggle is this, however:  I am a part of the collective.  It is impossible for me to separate the ills and struggles of my national community from that of my blood relatives and my friends.  There is a trickle down effect.  For example, as I think about being an “older” woman of inspiration and instruction for my younger cousins having their first babies, I must also pay attention to the thoughts of my real fear of the America these precious hued children will be brought up in.  

I was born in 1972 in a desegregated country.  I was brought up in the American South, the supposed seat of racism, barely a decade following the Civil Rights Movement yet I do not think in my entire lifetime have I ever been as concerned as I am now about being black in America. Though major, this is but one of the national issues at hand on which I must focus. 

Alas, I must pay attention because the daily lives of all the children and people who matter most to me could be at stake.  Though this has always been true, I feel it more acutely today.  Maybe it is because I am getting older and the world is in fact changing. Maybe it is because of the sheer volume of stories out there demonstrating the harsh realities of American life. Yet, despite all the schisms and isms happening before my eyes and streaming into my ears,  I remain optimistic and faithful, maybe more cautioned than a couple of decades ago, but hopeful nonetheless.  

And on days like today, when my heart and hippocampus are full, I will turn off the screen and silence the notifications. I will put away the books and articles. I will go have dinner with my girlfriends. I will text silly and sentimental memes to my children.  I will marvel at the wonder that is my growing grandson.  I will make my daily call to my grandmother to reminisce and laugh. I will cuddle with my husband. I will meditate on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy. I will hope. I will pray. I will remember that God is always good and always paying attention.  I will put my trust in Him and be at peace.


Monday, June 20, 2016

Don't Wait for the Letter from Hogwarts

By:  Susan

Rebecca Stead, the Newbery Award winning author of When You Reach Me, was asked at a conference I was attending what advice she had for aspiring writers.  She said most of us are waiting for someone else, some expert or authority, to tell us that we are writers (or singers, painters or astronomers).  Unlike Harry Potter who got a letter from Hogwarts telling him he was a wizard, most of us will never get such affirmation.  It is only when we take ourselves seriously and start doing the work of writing (or singing, painting or star gazing) that we will feel the confirmations.

I am not saying there is no such thing as innate and natural talent.  There are people who have a gift and I sure hope they use their gift to bring joy and other good things to the world.  I am talking about the majority of us who have a craving to be creative, to bring something of beauty into this world but are waiting for permission.

If we took away our tendency to compare, compete and commercialize when it comes to art, I think more of us would be willing to take a risk and explore our creative sides. And the more we allow ourselves to practice, make mistakes, and try again, the better we will become.  We may never be a Shakespeare or a Rebecca Stead.  We may never sing like Andrea Bocelli or know the galaxies like Neil DeGrasse Tyson.  But we will, just through the sheer act of trying,  get better at our art.

For example, I never thought I could sing.  As a matter of fact, I was told I should not sing.  But when my children were babies and required literally hours of rocking and singing to go to sleep each night, my voice actually got stronger.  Unfortunately, when my third child came along, she wanted to be laid down and left alone when she was sleepy, so my singing voice went dormant again.

My late mother-in-law started writing poetry in her fifties.  Although she had been a school teacher, she would always introduce herself as a poet.  She was also very encouraging of any artist she would meet.  If she met a young man who had written some poetry or a woman who liked to paint, she would introduce them to others by saying:  This is José and he is a poet or this is Julia and she is a painter.  Almost always Jose or Julia would try to correct her but she was so convincing in her judgment that they would hold back.

The world needs more beauty.  The world needs more of us to give something of our soul to it.  So sing, write poetry, paint or learn about the stars.  It doesn't have to be perfect, it may not win a prize or bring in any money but it will bring joy to your heart.

Often when I visit an art museum, I hear people comment on abstract or modern pieces and say: I could do that.  My response to them is: You should. This summer, I have vowed to paint something every day.  I have given permission to myself to purchase the supplies I need and spend a little time every night creating or re-creating something.  And it has brought me joy.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

ABC's of ME-Part 2

ABC’s of ME
Part 2

Ice Cream

I don’t know what it is about ice cream, but it brings me a little summer anytime, anywhere.  Mint chocolate chip is my favorite.  On a sugar cone.  In case anyone was wondering. 


I used to be fascinated with learning how to juggle.  It just looked like a cool thing to do, and I was always up for a challenge.  I started with napkins, since they were a little easier to catch, and they floated down so very gently and slowly.  Once I mastered juggling napkins, I moved on to tennis balls.  I never really got further than that.  I can’t even say that I actually mastered juggling tennis balls, but now I juggle something a little different.  I juggle tasks, events, schedules.  With two busy kids, you have to learn how to juggle activities, and other priorities that I find important.  For example, homemade meals together and actual conversations.  I juggle a little more carefully now, since the stakes are a little higher than some fluttering napkins.

Kit Kat

Favorite chocolate.  It’s crunchy. It’s sweet.  It comes in a pair, if you feel like sharing.  I never seem to though.


Someone who loves words is called a logophile.  I have a notebook of words that I have collected.  Words that have powerful meanings.  Or words with cool sounds and pronunciations.  My favorite words currently are shenanigans and atrocious.  They are fun to say, and when you say it with a little extra oomph, it just makes you feel happy. 


I love them! I love them! I love them!  If you ask me what I feel like doing for the evening, it is possible that I will say, watch movie.  Movies inspired by true events are probably my favorites.  Followed very closely by romantic, undying love type of movies.  It really is hard for me to pick a favorite movie.  There are so many I love for so many different reasons.  I have my go to movie if I feel like a good cry, and I have ones I go to if I need a pep talk.  My sister and cousin, and now my children even, play a game in which you have to guess the movie based on the movie quotes someone else gives.  It’s quite fun on road trips!


Some of my favorite trips are down memory lane.  I don’t mean to dwell in the past, but sometimes a smell or a song will take me back in time.  To a simpler day, or a perfect moment that is forever chiseled in my memory.  I don’t stay there long.  Just a short visit, but it warms me up all over.


“Be optimistic,
Don’t you be a grumpy.
When the road gets bumpy,
Just smile, smile, smile and be happy.”

As you have learned, I love movies.  There is a little song from the movie, Anywhere but Here, that always seems to come into my head when I am not having the best moment.  It is about a single mother who is doing the very best she can for her daughter.  Unfortunately, her daughter does not agree with the way the mother tries to get ahead.  When things went wrong, and they often did for the duo, she sang the song above.    It doesn’t necessarily change their luck, just like it doesn’t change my circumstances, but it does definitely make the tough moments a little easier to swallow.

Prayer has always been in my life since I was young enough to remember.  There are pictures of my grandma and me walking around her house saying our prayers before bed.  I was in diapers.  I 100% believe in the power of prayer.  I don’t always take advantage of its benefits.  Sometimes I wake up and get to running before I even cover myself with protection and blessings.  Lucky for me, I remember, and get to praying. 


 “A good quote is a beautiful bird! Wherever you meet with it, you will start flying with it!”

Sophia Itzel Lara

She likes to say that she was probably doing pirouettes in my belly or toe touches.  That must have been what I felt when something was kicking in my belly.  I was overcome with emotion when they placed my green eyed girl in my arms for the first time, and I still feel that same way when I see that girl smile.  She has the sweetest heart, and I will do everything I possibly can to keep her that way.  I might have to lock her up in a tower or something.


Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Complaint Department by Carolyn

Do you remember when department stores had a Complaint Department? Some poor soul sat behind a counter and listened to customers' gripes all day, every day. As horrid as that job would be, the benefit of it was that the complaints were (hopefully) heard by someone who could fix them, or had some control over the way things were done in that store. I think that is a concept that we need to consider using in our daily lives.

In my previous life as an assistant principal, I received many complaints from parents about teachers. Always, always, I asked if the parent had talked to the teacher about the issue before calling me. More times than not, the answer was no. This always surprised and disappointed me. I could not understand why a parent would not talk to the teacher if there was a problem. Wouldn't the teacher know far more about the situation than I, a relative outsider, would? Wouldn't the teacher be able to clear up any misunderstandings that had occurred when the student came home with a story about something that had happened in class? I am sure I made many parents unhappy when I insisted that they call the teacher to discuss the issue before involving me in it any further. How can the teacher make positive changes or clear up misunderstandings if never approached about the problem? I believe that, whenever possible, you should take your complaints to the person who has control over the situation.

Likewise, when friends have complained to me about problems with co-workers, their bosses, relatives, business people, whatever, I have encouraged them to talk to the person who could answer their questions, explain the situation, or make a change if needed. I'm happy to listen, but it does no good to air your grievances to someone who has absolutely no control over the problem. It might make us feel a little better to rant and rave and vent our spleen, but it does not resolve anything. The problem is still exactly what it was before the gripe session.

Even worse, the rancor caused by the discontent continues. Not only is the problem unresolved, but there are hard feelings between the person with the complaint and the source of their complaint. Most often, the target of this rancor is blissfully unaware that a problem even exists, because the one who is unhappy has never voiced that opinion to the right person.

This year, this has been a particularly painful problem for me at work. I have become aware that there are people who do not like the way I do my job. This is no surprise - the nature of my job as an instructional coach virtually guarantees that not everyone will approve of the way I do my job. A large part of my job is to (gently) push teachers a little beyond their comfort zone into what have proven to be best practices. Pushing gently is tricky. Some people prefer not to be pushed at all; others thrive on being pushed. I totally understand that. What I find most difficult to understand is why any of my coworkers would not come talk to me about their dissatisfaction instead of letting their resentment build up so much that they spew venom to others about me. That seems unfair.

A few years ago, we studied a chapter of a book* that dealt with how to meet complaints from others. The authors wrote about how important it is to guide employees to meet criticism with curiosity, rather than defensiveness. They advised us to ask ourselves, "What part of this problem have I caused?" I have worked on this response myself many times since reading that chapter. It is not a natural response, but it can be done. I like to think that I could (eventually, if not immediately) meet complaints with more curiosity that defensiveness. However, if complaints about me aren't brought to me, I never have the chance to be curious about the way I do things. If we don't approach others about our dissatisfaction, we deny them a chance to explain themselves or to improve what they do.

I know that it is difficult - most of us shy away from confrontation - but perhaps we need to make an attempt to take our complaints to the correct complaint department - to the person who has control over the situation. It would probably be healthier and make us all happier if we did.

*Chapter Two, "Curiosity", of Radical Change, Radical Results by Kate Ludeman and Eddie Erlandson, 2003, published by Kaplan Business