Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Good Hindu

A teacher of the Law asked the Lord, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"

What does the Law say?

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and mind, and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.

You have answered correctly.  Do this and you will live.

But, Lord, who is my neighbor?

The Lord replied, "A woman was having many trials in her life.  She had found a lump in her breast and needed surgery.  Fortunately, it turned out to be benign.  However, just four days after surgery and though the woman also had a daughter who was critically ill, her boss, an elder in a local evangelical church, demanded she come to work on her normally scheduled day off because the office was short-staffed.  She was incredulous but dragged her still weakened self to work because she mistakenly regarded her boss as a "friend."  Shortly after this he fired her and refused to give a reason although the office manager commended her work ethic and skills.

Some time later the woman became frighteningly ill and this time it really was cancer.  She had recently left her congregation though her son and husband stayed there.  She and her family had been involved in that church in many ways for nearly 20 years.  When the pastor learned from the woman's husband that she was ill he told the man he was sorry to hear it.  He never called the woman, never sent a note, never asked the husband to express his concern for the woman he had known.  Later, when the woman visited the church for an event her son was involved in the pastor made demeaning comments from the pulpit about "those people over at the ashram."

Meanwhile, the woman had met a female monk from the ashram.  They exchanged pleasantries only twice.  When the monk learned of the woman's illness she asked if she could have the woman's email address and phone number to keep in touch before and after surgery and treatment.  True to her word, the monk checked in on the woman several times asking how she was doing, if there was anything needed, letting her know she was offering prayers for the woman's well-being.  When the woman said she was feeling sad about the need for being quarantined from human touch during treatment the monk checked on her more often during that period of time to provide encouragement in the loneliness.  When the quarantine was over the monk gave the woman a big, loving hug and rejoiced with the woman over the good report from the doctor."

Which of these do you think was a neighbor to the woman facing trials?

The one who showed loved to the woman.

The Lord said, "Go and do likewise."

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I give thanks for the folks who demonstrated love to me in my time of need, whether I share their theology or not.  I am honored by their friendship and blessed by their kindness.  I can only hope to reciprocate adequately when the opportunities arise.  I will not remain in the presence of those who would demean them.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Reclaiming My Mat

A little over two years ago, in the wake of losing a job in a very nasty way, I discovered yoga.  One of the messages which helped me heal from that unpleasantness was the message of "letting go of that which no longer serves."  It did not serve me to dwell in anger.  It only kept me from moving forward. 

I also found it very healing to develop a practice in a discipline which teaches its students to honor their bodies meaning that whether I can make the same shapes as the instructor or the folks next to me isn't important.  It's important that I am listening to what my body says is good for it and I am the only one who can know that for sure.  Yoga helped me develop trust in listening to that inner voice.  This was healing in both physical and emotional ways because I had struggled with back problems serious enough to send me to a neurosurgeon many years ago.  I had limped through various forms of rehabilitation only to have certain health care providers suggest that when I complained of pain it indicated an unwillingness to work on my part. 

I kept telling them no, I was experiencing serious pain which was setting me back rather than moving me forward.  I hasten to add I worked with great endurance and perseverance to regain the use of my hand and arm after demolishing it eight years ago.  It ain't a lack of willingness to work...it was not being shown proper form to have the work be effective rather than harmful.  Yoga gave me a sense of proper alignment so I could work in ways which allowed me to increase strength and flexibility while avoiding injury...because I was listening to what my body told me in the process. 

In so doing I was empowered to listen more carefully from day to day and even moment to moment.  I had teachers who explained that just because I could do a certain pose yesterday didn't mean it would happen today.  Conversely, not being able to do something yesterday didn't mean it was beyond reach today.  I needed to greet each time on my mat as a new experience, without attachment or expectation.  This message became critically important when I was diagnosed with cancer less than six months after beginning a yoga practice.  The nature of my health problems created wild swings in my metabolism and energy levels to the extent that it wax impossible to predict how I'd feel on any given day.  It was a crash course in advanced listening.  Sometimes I'd have to stop in the middle of class and just take a rest while others continued working vigorously. I was ok with that.  I was even encouraged when other students said seeing me in a resting pose gave them permission to do the same when they needed it.

Yoga also helped me find a place where I could quiet a restless mind.  My mat became the place for dropping out from between my ears and into mindful movement and meditation.  Yogic philosophy tells us yoga is not just exercise for the body but a union of breath with movement and the body with the spirit.  I found that on my mat.  I shed anger with God and people.  I found a greater ability to listen to the messages  my body was giving me and the still small voice, conscience, God, the universe, whatever you want to call it.  It all came together in union as intended.  It got me through some dark days and helped me increase health both mental and physical.  It made me want to know more and to be able to share it with folks who might want to learn too so I enrolled in the teacher training course.

Teacher training has been at turns, amazing, fulfilling, overwhelming, frustrating, wonderful, inspiring, and infuriating.  Two weekends of it have been downright upsetting.  This past month's training made me want to burn my mat and never get back on it again.  Part of the frustration is due to having to become familiar with styles of yoga which I do not connect to at all, which I find far too physically demanding.  Although the message "honor your body" remains the same, that I even have to take a class in a particular style feels dishonoring and yet I have to find a way to learn the style even as I do not push myself to the point of injury.  It's a challenging balance to find. 

The other aspect, which pushed me over the line recently, was topics which opened up huge trauma triggers for me.  Between the physically demanding style I was learning and the distressing topics I felt as if I were losing the safe space my mat has always been.  It felt as if my mat were being invaded or usurped, as if I no longer had a right to honor my own body and my own spirit by giving it what it needed.  I was wrong, of course, but just like Dorothy had to learn that there's no place like home, I had to be reminded that my mat is MY mat and my practice is MINE.

I am 46 years old.  I've come to yoga late in life and after considerable physical trauma.  I do not need to have a practice which looks like that of an athletic 20-something.  If I do, great.  If I don't, that's great too.  The point is, I have a practice.  It doesn't matter how vigorous or how gentle it is. It matters if I am finding a union of breath and movement, of body, soul, and spirit.  It matters if I derive pleasure from my practice and want to engage in it, not whether I can put a foot behind my head or  do 62 chaturangas in a vigorous Ashtanga class (I can't do either).

The last training weekend I had damn near every trauma trigger tripped.  I was reeling.  I was a gaping, open wound sitting in a corner weeping through a class.  I was broken and depleted and yet asked for more....which has so often been the story of my life.  I was angry because MY mat is not the place for that.  MY mat is where I heal from all of that.  MY mat is my safe place.  I wept because I was afraid I was losing MY mat.  Then I remembered, it's MY mat and no one gets to tell me what My practice on MY mat looks like. 

I reclaimed my mat by staying off it for two classes.  For one class I sat in the corner just working to find my breath while others worked physically difficult poses.  For another class I stayed home.  When I returned, I went to the class taught in the style that speaks to ME.  I worked in the way MY body told me felt right.  I dropped out of my ears and into my body working a slow, meditative pace which allowed my mind to find the rest it needed.

When I teach I want to remember to empower my students to listen to themselves on their mats.  It will be my job to tell them what they need to know to be safe.  What they do with the rest of my instruction is up to them because it is their practice, not mine.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Overheard in (or regarding) the Library

It's a strange soundtrack to which I work. Outside one door is a beginner clarinetist honking and squeaking through Mary Had a Little Lamb. Outside the other door kindergarteners are learning letter sounds and chanting..t-t-t-t-t-t...Inside the library, the heaters that were just turned on this morning are clanging along.

It's got an interesting beat, a little challenging to dance to. I give it a 47.
 
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5th grader comes into the library and upon checking out tells me he was stressed and ready to pull his hair out deciding on a book.

Me: Friend, just relax. Picking a book should be relaxing.

Him: I get stressed over everything.

Me: Take a deep breath. Just breathe.

Him:
I tried that over 300 times. It doesn't work.

Me: Well, stop breathing. Let me know how that works out for ya.
 
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2nd grade quote of the day:

Him: I wish this was a real library.
Me: It is.
Him: But everyone talks too loud.

I love all the kids but the ones who crave the sanctuary get me every time.

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Oh the self-control I exhibit...When a student commented on the leather jacket draped over my chair I managed not to snarl and say, "It's made from the hide of kids who damage or never return library books."

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Then there's a little game I like to call "values clarification." You're in a school of 700 or so 5-10 yr olds plus staff. You may have 2 or 3 of the following and you may rotate which items you have but you may never have all 4 at the same time: functional plumbing, hand soap, paper towels, and toilet paper. Choose wisely...

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Finally, Isaac came to me asking for $50 to buy a new box of contact lenses.  I asked what happened to his money.  He said he had enough but didn't want to spend it.  Incredulous, I asked how much he brings home a week (from two part time jobs).  He quoted a figure and I countered letting him know I bring home less than half of that.  He said that was impossible.  I pulled out a pay stub.  Then he asked why on earth I still work there.


Friday, October 24, 2014

I Don't Know Where This Post is Going but It Will Get There

Can you believe once upon a time and for several years I posted five times a week? My how times change.  Back on October 12, Hugh Jackman and I shared a birthday and this blog turned 9 years old.  I certainly never imagined I'd be doing this nine years later and although the pace of my output has slowed considerably I don't want to stop completely.  This forum has provided me with people whose friendships have sustained me through some of my darkest days and who have rejoiced with me in great triumphs.  I like to think I have reciprocated that to some folks as well.  I am grateful, so very grateful for the friends who have become like family and the little community we've been able to form.

In other files marked "the times they are a changin'" I offer two examples of educational anachronisms.  This week  in one of my libraries a little boy ran to my desk carrying a book so he could alert me to the "bad word" contained in the title.  The book in question was Dick and Jane: a Christmas Story.  I had to explain that it was a nickname for Richard that has fallen out of favor. 

Later, a fourth grade class came in with their brand new math workbooks for a new curriculum aligned with the mandated Common Core standards.  As a table full of students hunched over their workbooks crunching numbers I happened to notice the two pages contained several word problems using a stamp collection as the main reference point from which to derive information.  Let me repeat that.  A stamp collection.  A fourth grade class.  A poverty-stricken, inner city school.  In the year 2014. Cuz, yo, that's how we roll in da hood.....with our postage stamp collections.  Bitches be all up in my face wantin' a British Guiana 1c magenta. 

Sweet mother of irrelevancy, if we have to stop a math lesson to explain what the hell a postage stamp is and why on earth someone would have an entire collection of them because the kids are all giving that cocked head, confused puppy look I think we've derailed ourselves a bit here.  Could we perhaps enter the 21st century and provide appropriate examples of things the kids might actually come in contact with so they can grasp how math affects their daily lives?  If you want to introduce stamp collecting as a concept just say so and I will come up with a lesson integrating vocabulary, geography, history, art, technology and even math.  Furthermore, the kids will be on the edges of their seats and learn something that may actually spark their imagination and intellect because it will be cohesive rather than random.  This?  This is just plain stupid.

We've also had all sorts of automotive traumas.  In the last three months each of my three children has had an accident.  Thank God, no one was injured.  That's the most important thing.  The cars have fared less well.  Two were totaled, one sustained minor damage.  Calypso's car has had transmission problem and is back on the shop for more of the same. Mr. Lime's Clampett-mobile style truck had the brakes go and tries to slowly poison the driver with carbon monoxide unless the window is cracked open.  It's now in the shop for a new muffler and brakes.  I'm just wondering which automotive gods I have pissed off and if an offering of motor oil and Turtle Wax will help appease them.  Then again, one could say a Higher Power has had my back since the people I love most have been spared injury.

In happy news, I've been able to teach my series of free community yoga classes as practice of my new skills. Did I mention I was the first among my large class of teacher trainees to have to teach the public?  How about that it was before we'd had the classes on sequencing or providing physical assistance to students?  It was nerve-wracking to prepare for but fun to do once I was there.  My mantra for nerves was, "It ain't cancer.  It's yoga."  Very zen, huh?  I'm sure the ancient gurus chanted that in Sanskrit or Tibetan.  I was so encouraged by the two teachers who came to my classes, as well as my fellow trainees.  And then there were the two ladies who were brand new to yoga and who told me they were hooked immediately because of the message that there is no competition and that they listen to their own bodies whether what they do looks like the teacher or the person on the mat next to them or not.  I was THRILLED that they "got it" and were empowered by that.

So here I am nine years out, working in two urban schools running libraries, working toward being certified as a yoga instructor.  I've been through a child's serious illness, my own serious illness, five surgeries, and more cars than I care to count.  My three children who were in elementary school and junior high when I began this blog are all graduated from high school and on to the next steps of their lives.  One is in Georgia, one in a local institute of higher learning, and one is preparing to go to Haiti next month in preparation for a later 1-3 month internship there.  Mr. Lime is counting the years to retirement and I am embarking on new adventures within new communities of friends.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Flexibility

First, an update on the aftermath of last week's post.

After being told I'd have to do "library on a cart" I spent a considerable amount of time gathering scholarly articles correlating library access to various measures of student achievement so I could fortify my arguments for the students having access to the full library collection, not just the couple hundred books I could fit on a cart and drag around the school.  So as to not overstress the admins I highlighted key passages in the several dozen pages I printed out.  Folks were unswayed though one noted I had come prepared, to which I replied, "I work in a library.  I know how to do research."

However, I am glad to report an acceptable compromise was reached.  Our school is bursting at the seams.  I had to give up some geography in the library to accommodate another class being moved up there.  I was able to convince the principal that library on a cart  is such a piss poor excuse for library service that we cannot justify it.  He offered the suggestion of only having part of the class come to the library at a time since an entire class can no longer fit in the remaining space.  I agreed because the most important thing is that the kids have access to the full collection.  We've already lost librarians and library instruction.  We cannot afford to lose access to the collection.  So a certain degree of flexibility from both the principal and from me has allowed for some semblance of a solution.  It's not optimal or even desirable but it's preferable to library on a cart.

In other news, I spent this weekend of yoga teacher training learning how to safely give hands on assists to deepen stretches....so flexibility can be increased.

Bending one classmate in half.
Asking another classmate to walk all over me.



















I am learning flexibility in all sorts of contexts but I'd  still like to tell the people decimating urban public schools and their libraries to get bent.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Disheartened

I'd like to open by asking you what exactly you think would posses a person with a B.S. Ed. and who holds state certifications in Special Education and as a Library Assistant to put 80 miles a day on her car to earn $8.41/hr in order to provide book circulation to two urban elementary schools with a combined collection of 21,000 books and a combined population of roughly 1600 students and 75 teachers?  Allow me to remind you this person performs the job alone.  There is no M.L.S. credentialed librarian.  The folks with advanced degrees were furloughed so those of us hired as "assistants" are doing this job alone....in two schools.

God knows I could find a Special Ed job tomorrow and be paid many times more than what I am currently paid so we can assume it's not the generous compensation for this job.  The thing is, I burned out on the bureaucracy with that job.  I love the kids who struggle for one reason or another.  I love empowering them and helping them find ways to succeed.  I just can't cope with the exhausting amount of legal documentation.  It saps the energy that the kids need in order for me to be effective with them.

I am not enamored of long commutes and even less so since our family has had multiple major automotive issues in the last two months.  I certainly don't enjoy filling my tank two or more times a week and honestly, my pay doesn't really help me do so.  The travel route is congested with a great many aggressive drivers and several construction sites.  Neither of those things help endear the drive to me.

At my two schools I lack basic necessities for my job such as an adult-sized desk and a chair with doesn't collapse under me every time I sit in it.  I've become very adept at the art of the careful landing.  I also sit in a moldy basement in one of the schools.  Hey, who needs air-quality?  What an unnecessary luxury.  Oh right, the air is fine according to all reports (how many palms were greased for that and how many salaries could have been paid instead?) only it's not.

Of course, a case could be made for insanity being the motivation.  These conditions are crazy-making.  It also unnerves my husband on a daily basis that I drive as far as I do to park my car in less than safe neighborhoods to work for so little.  My sanity certainly has been questioned long enough and in multiple contexts by many people so there may be sufficient evidence to convict on that charge.

I submit the main motivation is a soul-deep concern for vulnerable kids and for being involved in their educational process in a way which doesn't suck the life out of me, a desire to support a bone-weary faculty in their daily efforts, and an abiding love and appreciation for the power of books.  There's also the satisfaction that comes from bringing order out of chaos, being able to provide efficient systems for accessing literature and information, and making both students and faculty aware of resources they never knew existed.  Watching a child's eyes light up over something which engages his imagination or answers her questions gives me joy.  Seeing a teacher breathe a sigh of relief over being saved a little time in searching for materials to use in augmenting a lesson gives me a little more energy to continue serving.

I don't see myself as a great savior but I do believe I provide an important service and provide it well.  I believe the context in which I serve is critically important as I am serving students who begin life with too many strikes against them already.  The students in my two schools are the poorest in the city.  They come from homes full of violence, substance abuse, and transience.  They come from homes with a lack of stability, food, and books.  That's not to say every home represented is like this but certainly the demographics indicate there is a disproportionate degree of these attributes.  There will never be a lack of people willing to work in comfortable suburban schools.  It's important to attract capable, hard-working people to the worst situations though.  I am capable and if showing up to do my job well in the midst of dealing with cancer doesn't demonstrate a work ethic, I don't know what does.

Our schools spend a great deal of time and money providing free meals, health clinics, food pantries, clothing closets, after school activities, and other services.  These are important and can make a big difference.  I am in no way suggesting these services cease.  I will say we  must not forget our primary job is to EDUCATE children.  I am deeply concerned that the lack of value placed on our libraries indicates we have forgotten that responsibility.

We have already furloughed the librarians so our students are not receiving instruction as to how to properly use a library and access its treasures or literature and information, nor how to conduct effective online searches for digital information.  We have completely failed them in providing the tools needed for them to engage in self-directed learning in the most expansive resource, the library.  Ray Bradbury said he could not afford to go to college so he went to the library and "graduated" at age 27 after he had read countless volumes.  Our students, who may never be able to dream of affording higher education, will not have a concept that they have the power to educate themselves.  Hell, they probably won't even find out who Ray Bradbury is or have the chance to consider his works for that matter.

Still, I strive because it matters deeply for our students.  When I interviewed for this job I said aside from providing excellent service I wanted to cultivate the library as a safe place.  I am given 20 minutes every other week per class (which is pathetic to begin with) to allow them a sense of this haven, this sacred space for knowledge and imagination.  It's a challenge but one I believe I have risen to.  I cannot contractually provide formal instruction but I can take 20 minutes and do everything in my power to convey that this is a place for hope of finding solace or building a better future....until you evict the students and me from this place.

I am told I am now to "do library on a cart."  I am to distill a 10,000 volume library to a cart which holds fewer books than the average teacher's classroom library, push it from room to room, and call it library service for 900 students and 30-40 faculty.  We've already abandoned library instruction.  If you want me to abandon proper circulation service then you are more insane than I am.  This is a horrendous failure of educational leadership.  If you want library on a cart stop pretending it matters at all.  Delete the entire collection from the catalog, distribute the books to the students and teachers, and take the shelves apart.  I have no interest in perpetrating the fraud of saying library services are provided to our neediest children under such conditions.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Just Give Me the A Already Because My Other Classes Are Killing Me

School has resumed.  It's been an odd start to the year.  t was very strange not to have to engage in the typical back to school preparations for children who are still in public school.  Very weird indeed since Mr. Lime and I still had to get ourselves ready. 

That said, Calypso (who would like me to post some touching sort of post about her...sheesh, kid discovers your blog and all of a sudden wants to be the star!) has begun a program at a community college.  After a couple of online classes in which she did very well she has begun attending full-time on campus classes this fall.  Here then, instead of a warm and fuzzy Hallmark sort of post, I present some observations on school.

She is not loving Statistics.  I can't say as I blame her.  If you recall, I burned my stats textbook when the class was over. She has a particular classmate who is driving her even crazier than the topic itself.  The classmate is a middle-aged woman who has just returned to school for the first time in decades and is understandably insecure about it.  What annoys Calypso is not the insecurity but her inclination to ask the same question repeatedly because she can't be bothered to actually listen to the prof when he answers her. The incessant questioning is so constant a disruption that other members of the class and the prof himself are finding their patience strained to the limit.  Calypso, though she is struggling with statistical concepts seems to have grasped at least one in assigning a nickname to this one classmate whose age is no where near the range of fellow classmates and who doesn't seem to grasp any of the social cues within a polite classroom.  Said classmate is now referred to as Outlier.



Here then is what she related as the conversation with her Literature prof who said genres won't be covered individually but rather under themes such as Death, Alienation and Loneliness, Nature, Love and Desire.  Under each theme there will be poetry, short stories, and dramas relating to the theme.

C: I was looking at the textbook and the syllabus and noticed there's a TON of Poe in the textbook but none was listed in the syllabus so I was wondering why.

Prof: Oh?  You think we should?

C: Well, um, since you mentioned he's pretty much the father of the short story and we have a theme of DEATH, I thought his work might be relevant.

Prof: Hhhmm, good point.  Which works do you think we ought to use?

C: (incredulous) Well, it's a safe bet that anything he wrote would work but how about a short story AND a poem?

Prof: You may be right.  I'll add that.

C: Well, and I also noticed a lot of Plath in the book but none on the syllabus.

Prof:  You think I should be covering Plath?

C: (looking around for Candid Camera) Well, uh, yes.  She seems a good candidate for alienation and loneliness since, you know, she was feeling alienated and lonely enough to literally stick her head in an oven and all.

Prof: Hhmm, another good point.  I hadn't thought of that.


Calypso then told me she needed to write a thank you note to her ninth grade English teacher who loved nothing more than when a student found death as a theme in any of the works discussed during Lit Circles (something Calypso found a real challenge at the time).  I'm sure such a note will make that teacher's day.