Today kicks off the challenge issued by the co-authors at Two Writing Teachers, a challenge that encourages teachers and other educators to live like a writer for the entire month of March. Despite dark clouds, I’m so excited!
Water tasted good. As I lowered my glass, I thought about how I need to drink more water, I really do. I also thought about today, the first day of the 2019 Slice of Life Story Challenge. Today marks the beginning of the challenge issued by all the co-authors at Two Writing Teachers (twowritingteachers.org), a challenge that supports and encourages teachers and other educators to live like a writer for the entire month of March. For 31 days straight, those who accept the challenge must post a small moment story, a “slice of life” story, on their blog, while also offering feedback to at least three other “Slicers.”
Looking out over my sink and through the window, I watched as more late February storm clouds rolled in. Where do they come from? I wondered. And also, where do the metaphorical, mental doom-and-gloom storm clouds originate? I mean, I love writing. Becoming a Two Writing Teachers co-author has been such a privilege and opportunity.
And yet, as March approaches, the clouds roll in. I feel some sort of odd, unwelcome dread.
And the clouds talk.
They say stuff like, “Oh boy, now you’re gonna have to get up early,” and, “Sure hope you can think of something to write about for 31 days,” and, “Gosh, March is going to be awfully busy for you.” And so forth.
Gazing out my window, I found myself wondering why humans– well, at least me– are wired up to dread things we actually love doing?
In that moment, I decided that I’m going to intentionally look forward to this March challenge. Yes! I’m going to take five deep breaths each morning, choose three things for which I’m grateful, set an intention for the day… and write.
I looked down at my glass of water. It was half full. So I finished it. Here’s to a wild and robust March Story Challenge… I can’t wait!
Between the growing challenges of navigating both increasingly complex digital and physical worlds, balancing work and home lives, and parenting three children, I find the sheer pace of life to be something in need of my attention. Something to address, perhaps through one little word (OWL). Here is my choice for this year…
For over ten years now, designer and blogger Ali Edwards has led an invitation to adopt just one word– one little word— as a guide for setting intentions, inviting new things, and/or creating change in one’s life for the new calendar year. In place of “new year’s resolutions” (something many of us struggle to live up to, me included), the one little word feels like a more accessible, more manageable, more inspirational goal. Last year, I selected GRATEFUL as my one little word, and I can honestly say this word provided solace, illumination, and sometimes much-needed grounding at some pretty key moments. I found it to be the perfect word for a less-than-perfect 2018.
In mulling over possibilities for 2019, I have found myself considering Ali Edwards’s words about setting intention, inviting the new, and creating change in my life. These words really resonate with me as I have been contemplating my third year of unofficial participation in the one little word project. Although intentionally creating gratitude has made a big difference for me this year (GRATEFUL), I will admit to becoming evermore present to the frenetic pace life has taken on; I’m imagining this feels true for for nearly all of us, no? Between the growing challenges of navigating both increasingly complex digital and physical worlds, balancing work and home lives, and parenting three children, I find the sheer pace of life to be something in need of my attention. Something to address, perhaps through one little word.
Therefore, I have chosen the word BREATHE as my one little word for 2019. BREATHE, in addition to being one of our most fundamental human needs, holds many metaphorical and connotative meanings which I find both fascinating and inspiring:
- “Breathe” as used in music— As a musician, I have learned that sometimes it is where one doesn’t play that can make all the difference. The space between the notes helps just as much as the notes themselves to create the emotion, the feel, and the effect of a piece of music. Conversely, when one overplays, the music can lose all of those qualities. Songs, like all of us, need to breathe. As I choose this one little word for this year (BREATHE), I realize I need to allow space– i.e., breathing— to take its much needed place as part of the overall tapestry of the song I live.
- “Breathe” as in something to allow wine to do— When we open a bottle of wine and pour it, we allow the wine to oxidize. Often this process is called “allowing the wine to breathe.” This phrase translates to a metaphorical allowance of the wine to “stretch its legs” after being cooped up in a bottle for years. The connotation of breathing in this context, therefore, could be a positive analogy for releasing one’s feelings and interpretations of entrapment. I will admit to experiencing such angst both in professional and personal living recently; therefore, for such inevitable situations, breathing will be invited. I will BREATHE.
- “Breathe” as a component of mindfulness— According to the website mindful.org, mindfulness is “[the] basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on around us.” Meditation and breathing are essential pieces to activating and honing such an ability. This year I hope to practice more elements of mindfulness, with breathing chief among them.
As I adopt this new one little word BREATHE for 2019, I, of course, tip my hat to all of those who came before me, to those who chose this word as their word (such as my former TWT colleague, Lisa Keeler who chose this word in 2017). And this word, of course, is available to any who believe it to be right for them. As I said to my beautiful wife the other day when she inquired about “using it too,” the word belongs to everyone and no one.
I want to wish all who are reading this post a happy and prosperous new year. I am honored you have taken your time to read this, and hope you are able to settle on your one little word in a way that feels helpful and inspiring. Happy New Year!
For the final slice of life 2018, a message of hope . . .
“I started my acting class yesterday!” The light outside the library windows, still imbued with spring morning color, shone through onto the carpet. As I stood across from my excited colleague, I observed similar light emanating from her eyes. Her son, a middle school boy, had recently auditioned for and earned a lead role in a theatrical production. A few weeks back, my colleague shared this impressive news with me. In telling me, she literally exuded excitement for him, so pleased that he’d discovered what was for him, a new passion. Shortly after that, I learned she had enrolled herself in an acting class. “Just to learn what this acting thing is all about,” she reported.
When she told me this week the class had begun, I immediately thought back to my own theater experience. While working as an eager new teacher at my very first middle school, I had once offered a Thursday theater improv class for interested students. Every Thursday morning, all teachers on my staff taught an “interest group,” a little course typically outside academics for which they had a passion and an expertise. Teachers offered such mini-courses as knitting, archery, creative writing, origami, basketball. I remember this fondly as a time when there seemed to be more time to get to know students, to play a little bit sometimes, to breathe.
As a specialist no longer working in my own classroom, I now see teachers struggling to breathe, struggling to maintain, struggling to balance the many pressures exerted on them. Teaching is not what it once was, we all know that. We feel that. Nor should it be, I recognize that, too. But I am hopeful that the pendulum in our profession will swing back, at least a little.
Chatting with my colleague in the library this week helped me to feel heartened for her. The brain loves novelty. And I could see new sparks of inspiration electrifying her in ways I don’t know that I had ever seen before. My hope for teachers, for all of us really, is that we can find those little avenues in life that not only sustain us, but light us up; those paths of inspiration that help us come to school rejuvenated and more of who we are. Because it’s important we stay in this profession. It is. This work matters.
And we’ve got to find ways to breathe.
A student reached her goal yesterday . . .
Shuffling the assessment papers, I gently tapped them into a tidy stack and laid them down. The smile was beginning to emanate now, I could feel it, forming itself across my face. I looked across the small, round table at the young lady sitting on the other side, met her gaze. “Well,” I began, “you passed.” And with those words, I quietly closed yet another chapter.
You see, as the reading consultant and specialist at my school, I have the privilege of working with those readers who require “tier three” instruction. This means, essentially, that I provide specialized reading intervention that (hopefully) brings them to grade level. Now in my fifth year in this position, I have learned that these students vary widely in their needs, that they have far less in common than proficient readers do; which means curiosity must become my best friend when I work with them.
This particular student was no different. We had been working together a while now, and, like other students that came before, I had come to know her; hard-working, ambitious, personable, a delight to work with. But now our journey was ending. Sitting at that little table in my office, we discussed her progress, how far she’d come. “Are you proud of yourself?” I asked her. She nodded. Yes, she was proud of herself. She should be, I thought.
And then she was gone. Like many others that came before her, we said good-bye and I watched her walk out the door for the last time. This one is going to be okay, I thought. Next week I will begin working with a new student.
The journey will start again.
My wife’s grandmother passed away yesterday…
My wife’s grandmother passed away yesterday. Her father’s mother. And so, predictably, memories of my own mother’s passing came flooding back, like a wave of water finding a crack in a levy. My wife described her grandmother as gracious and generous, the kind of grandma who went out of her way for her grandkids. Sitting in darkness last night, my wife and I huddled beneath hand-crafted blankets. With the kids finally asleep, we quietly whispered about some of the similarities between her wonderful grandmother and my beautiful mom. There seemed to be several important and wonderful ones.
Death is a strange thing. Especially in its permanence. For me, I find my mom’s departure to be something I must constantly remind myself actually happened. That yes, it’s real. That yes, on that terrible day, April 21, 2017, my father and I had to slowly and reluctantly leave her in a hospital bed- because she had passed. That she would not be calling anymore. That she would not be flying across the country anymore toting mounds of presents for my children.
According to my wife, her grandma specialized in small acts of generosity that really made a grandchild feel loved. My mom, too, definitely specialized in acts of generosity that made all those around her feel loved. During her last visit, she arrived with an entire suitcase filled with gifts- word searches, crafts, stuffed animals, games. That morning I held my iPhone in video mode to capture the ecstatic joy she brought to the faces of my little girls. I watched as they climbed like little monkeys onto the guest bed to embrace their “Tutu” (a Hawaiian word for grandma), so happy for this now rare opportunity to see her. Although she must have been feeling such exhaustion from the previous evening’s travel, Mom buoyantly greeted them, hugged them, asked them how they were doing.
A year now nearly past, I continue to hang onto what there is to hang onto in regards to my mom. Her lessons. Her love. Her generous way with people. And I feel so sad for my father-in-law, as he is just beginning this journey; and my wife, who begins her grieving process.
I suppose incumbent upon us in the cycle of life is an obligation, an obligation to carry forward the best of what those who came before us taught and lived. From these two amazing women, I am sure my wife and I will work to emulate their generosity, a crown jewel of their humanity. They will be missed.