Category Archives: Writing

How One Could Think, “He’s God’s Man,”Is Not Beyond Me

A person can don a used world view by slowly exchanging his or her contemporary world view for a stronger story. This can be good like waking up, or, not so great. I took on a life redux in my post-divorce time of guilt. In the early ‘80’s I hefted on the big overcoat of salvation at age 30, desiring to be a perfect Christian wife in my second marriage, hoping to redeem my life mistakes, which were many.  T.S. Eliot wrote in Choruses from the Rock of those who “By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good…” I met people with tight biblical cosmology and they appeared happy.

Changing my perspective to a Christian view had different features. There was community and connection, new friends, meaningful work, outreach to needy people, drama and music and 1,100 acres of redwoods in which to live for a monthly tithe. 

There was a dark side to donning salvation.  A khaki, tailored thing with epaulets from another era.  One thing about this religion I didn’t know then, was that I was enlisting to be a soldier. I’d heard the tune, “Onward Christian soldiers” but thought that was a vague metaphor of long-gone days. The mission Bible church, where I was inducted, became an outpost of militant purity.  We were, according to our pulpit, more like the true church than the average. And, I am at heart, a peacenik, so I overlooked much of the language of domination for too long. Now it shouts on the public stage.

Back in 1980, my personal hope was simply to be made whole. I was sensible of my wounded self and my fractured life.  I couldn’t afford a therapist. Like generations of penitents, I wept on my knees over my fallen nature — cringing in the light of God. My zero self-worth was easy to establish, as the firstborn of an abusive alcoholic father who grew up on a mission station in South Africa and of an unexpectedly pregnant mother who, even though she sang in the Methodist choir at 17, had no qualms about asking a doctor to remove me from her uterus.

In the teaching and in the company of others who had “repented” of being part of the human potential movement, I came to believe that I was “new in Christ”, so I stood on my feet and evangelized.  I got a system and worked it. 

Here’s how the view goes. God is in charge of the affairs of men, although not their conscience or free will.  And men are in charge of their women. A church with a woman pastor needed a “covering,” meaning a male.  My female pastor refused one.  The saved believe while their fellow humans are seen across a chasm. Eternally damned.  This connection to “the Holy Spirit” became a model of becoming deeply disconnected with myself.  My fellow church people and I often fearfully didn’t ask questions, suppressed anger and slowly began wounding our consciences as power was more often exerted in physical abuse along with the unending humiliation of emotional “corrections.” I am deeply sorry for my actions and inactions then.

Everyone served the men, even the woman pastor, since God was referred to as “he.” Children were lowest on the pecking order and were inordinately disciplined at times.  This was America in the late 20th Century, not Puritan days, even though it was an anomaly in the general population. I learned later that there were many cults in that decade – varieties of religious extremism. Note that many folks were instead flocking to easier conversions, with televangelists and super pastors and promises of prosperity.  Modern American religion has less problem with serving both Mammon and God than does traditional Christianity.

Changing my view took time because one doesn’t throw a lobster into boiling water; one heats it slowly. That’s part of the recipe for delusion. It wasn’t a prayer to Jesus, but the practice that harmed. Living as a “disciple” in a fundamentalist church was a slow erosion of my self-referencing and conscience that went unaddressed. And once you’re immersed, well, you’re deluded. Taking on an identity that you soon fear will be ripped from you: By a word from a “godly” leader you may be kicked out and shunned by your fellows.

Roger McNamee wrote in a technology article in Time Magazine (Vol. 193, No. 3 2019) of the Facebook woes, “the business model depends on advertising, which in turn depends on manipulating the attention of users so they see more ads.  One of the best ways to manipulate attention is to appeal to outrage and fear, emotions that increase engagement.  [ital. mine]

One evening in the mid 80’s, I drove down from the Santa Cruz mountains to Los Gatos Christian Church to hear Jerry Falwell speak.  He was teaching the white grass roots, filling a wealthy church with expensively dressed visitors. He encouraged believers to get active in politics – for the sake of their values.  Indirectly, for God. He appealed to moral outrage and patriotism. At one point he mentioned the need for more women in Washington D.C. and a well-heeled lady behind me said audibly to her friend, “How come it’s always the women who have to clean up the mess?” We chuckled, but it was a moot point. 

The next day after the talk, one of the teaching pastors at West Heights informed me that I was now a fundamentalist.  “A what?” I asked.  He explained that’s what Falwell’s movement was about, and that I qualified because I believed the basic truths of the Bible.  I knew the nickname was not a compliment, as they never are when applied to groups, even though the he meant it as one.  But then, fundamentalists take insults as a badge of honor.  I learned quickly that “the world” would not accept me because I belonged to Jesus, which enhanced the model of us-and-them, the saved and damned. Which is how contemporary conservatives view the country.  They say “our” America like they bought it and no one else has permission to pursue happiness.

Now, 20 years removed from that religious cult, transformed by hard work and the love of family and friends into a fairly normal human adult, I can understand today’s religious conservatives being up in arms. It makes sense why a surprising number of Americans supported a demagogue at the polls.  Knowing how well the Moral Majority did their grassroots homework, it doesn’t seem like a big stretch.  Like a televangelist, Trump’s a political leader who seeks support by appealing to the desires and prejudices of ordinary people rather than by using rational argument.  Now the megachurches provide him one big base for this emotion-based persuasion. What do these hundreds of thousands of American believers want? Protect our investments and take us back to [imagined] days of moral purity.  Don’t let the liberals make our government huge or expensive and don’t let them infect our children with their ungodly ideas.

I am reviewing those difficult two decades of my life to say that I understand now how otherwise rational people can fall in with a demagogue. And how accessible it is to engage in the primal practice of shunning the “unacceptable” and grooming the powerful to please.  I get how we can feel threatened by liberal people, who believe they are the sane, safe ones, or by conservative people, who believe they are doing good and are scared of liberal views. 

Reader, please accept that today I do not judge or take issues with any person who names their source of life Jesus, nor discourage anyone from gathering to pray for peace and wisdom, whatever the faith. It’s your choice. 

However, my church experience, almost 40 years ago, became a communal study in delusion which I think mirrors a condition in our country that may be occurring large scale.  Fundamentalism is an adjective for the more specific word, extremism.  As in taking the Bible literally. Leaders’ power exerted in matters that are none of their business. When evangelicals stand up for a moral [note, not a civil] agenda in public, they call any negative reaction persecution – not disagreement.  If liberals disagree, their voice is dishonored or disregarded because liberals don’t conform to the biblical agenda.  But, has moral outrage become the purveyance of both sides? Sometimes lately it sounds like that.

Jesus promised persecution.  So, in the cult, we got bolder and felt honored that our popularity ratings dropped to all-time lows.  Even the POTUS views Democratic opposition as a kind of hate, as persecution of his innocent, positive self. Disagreement isn’t hate, but that isn’t clear in the public “conversations” which are fueled by outrage and fear. [Very little said about actual policy.]  Trump has positioned himself as a protector of an entrenched segment of America who listen raptly. If you’re one of the base called “uneducated American” you can just believe Trump until his schemes don’t work out for you. What if he doesn’t keep his promise to the little guy?  It’ll be, so what? I know, he promised every breath to you…which means words.

Some contemporary churches, particularly the mega churches, many of which are based on the prosperity teachings of Norman Vincent Peale (see POTUS prayer consort at inauguration), offered a comfortable salvation – belonging to the club — without worrisome issues like sin.  The main benefit, besides the music, hi-tech emotional experience and company, is belonging to the right team. The great team. [see red hats] I remember when the church felt to me like an asylum from all we fear – addiction, violence, etc.

Today I am pointing out this protracted lack of civil discourse and an aggravated unwillingness to listen and learn from one another. On both sides, a form of moral indignation and fear.  What concerns me about the war of the liberal and conservative extremes, is that I suspect a partial, if not complete blindness, to more critical issues.  What work should be done that may need us to step out of our social/political polarization?  What common understandings can we work for in our legislative bodies that would benefit all?  

At this writing, during the infamous Shutdown, I know that the needs of many people are not being met in areas assisted by the Federal government, as well as our local issue in California with the expensive need to manage overgrown forests in the wake of devastating wildfires. Etc. etc.

Here’s the obvious problem with dualism.  If there’s a “correct” side then the other is damned. And both the left and the right seem convinced that they are correct.  In the struggle for the moral/social/public advantage, only a few are addressing critical issues.  For example, the rapidly widening wealth gap. This is equality business that I think ought to be attended to for the well-being of all. It might also ease the climate change factor. When I reflect on the agenda and squabbles of leadership back in the fundamentalist cult it was, underneath the finer points of scripture, mostly about control and money.  I suspect the contemporary conservative stance is mainly about protecting monied interests in the name of taking the moral high ground. That is hypocrisy.


How dare the Dems deny a wall? Is it King Cyrus having another temper tantrum, the way he’s done business all his life? Or, I wonder, is the wall a red herring? Trump’s campaign revisited in his Tweeted video clip today was pure propaganda.  From here on out, it’s going to be only America first. “Every decision on taxes…. will be made to benefit American workers and their families.  I will never let you down.  We will bring back…we will bring back…we will bring back…we will not fail.  [My inauguration] marks the day the people became the rulers of this nation again.”

How, in the past two years, has he made “the people” rulers? He has incited mob violence, but that isn’t rule of law.  Besides the video clip’s stirring call to nationalism, watch it with visual literacy.  His claim of greatness is back grounded by military might, repeatedly through the frames. Look at the expansive scale of everything.  Let’s consider, too, how much the media corporations profit by this push and pull drama.  

A Tweet this morning from a white Trump supporter said Californians are all haters.  That by virtue of being in California, we hate Trump because we love immigrants more than our own countrymen.  There are obviously multiple definitions of “our country,” emerging. Or is our definition being irrevocably changed? Is the partisan war today loudest on the outside edges – do we only hear the voices of the angry white supremist or his more-educated superior conservative counterpart – and in opposition, only hear the shouting of liberal human rights activists, calling for more gender and racial equality? When I think partisan, I wonder was there ever a political party that steadfastly stood for universal human rights? I don’t remember…

The contemporary surge of liberalism mostly represents to me evolving human rights issues, better thinking and action for social and economic equality, understanding differences, establishing justice for peoples who have been disenfranchised, humiliated or murdered for their sexual preference or their skin color, or both.  I remember how we fundamentalists automatically judged those people sinners.

But even under reasonable presidents, have we noticed and dealt with the multi-billion-dollar corporations and banks, the federal contracts, dark money, the Wall Street gamers, gerrymanderers, lobbyists pumping billions into politicians – have we already let them steal the prospects of a livelihood for the next generation?  Have we noticed the escalating number of homeless people with heartbreaking addictions? The rise of child poverty numbers in a wealthy country and the underfunding of their schools?

Recently, one of my liberal women friends in a book club was shocked that I was reading David Brooks’ The Social Animal.  “He’s a conservative! she gasped.  It also happens that Mr. Brooks is a good writer and has articulated some complex ideas.  Was I really to worry that I would be tainted? This cultural war is not healthy pluralism.

I am in awe of civil rights leaders, and watchdogs who show up now at the Congressional table and speak up.  I dread them losing their voice or vote and even more I’m shaken by this: What if the stakes of this 40-year cultural/social war are reframing, or possibly dismantling, what our constitutional forbearers designed as government for the people, of the people and by the people? The entire game of politics and economics, even modern-day religion has changed during the digital age.  How do we know where this is going, even if a Democrat is the next president? Is government being re-defined as the relationship with the governed is strained or simply manipulated more and more?

I’m trying to apprehend how to live my civic life as a We thing, which is the gist of pluralism.  Our present institutions are mostly structured top down and American life is viewed as a power struggle within the factory model. Or a big triangle on the American dollar.  This does not need to engender demagogues and followers, but in the digital age, the way public “discourse” is proceeding, it has.

We face some tough problems that are being exacerbated by our positions of in-it-for-me – government continuing to operate in the clutches of big business, for example; or in it for “my team,” aka the politically correct agenda.  I’m interested in the view of work from the book, The Power of Positive Deviance, demonstrating that, while we know much about how to prevent the suffering and inequality in our nation (and world), we aren’t taking a We stance to do anything about it. The current POTUS thrives on division as he lines the pockets of his cronies and global pals.

In countries where people were easily coached to take a we stance, amazing problem solving arose within the groups.  Even in classrooms, teachers today facilitate growth in thinking and learning with students when they adopt a we stance, discarding the factory model of education.

Fundamentalist doctrine infers that a nation gets the leadership it deserves, that a healthy nation is upright, traditional, and thus, godly.  This is defined outwardly:  Does the president hold a prayer meeting?  Does his family go to church? Is he against abortion? That’s all it takes to be accepted by the conservative.

This was the way it was when I lived in delusion. The only explanation for my fellow countrymen and women who lived a different set of values –or who didn’t care about Christianity — was that they were blindly, without their overcoats, doomed. In clearer psychological terms, they were unacceptable.  Think of Trump’s small vocabulary: bad people, terrible people…very bad…

Here are some racial/gender/social issues to tackle if conservatives really feel the need to clean up society.  My list would include: educating and disarming good old boys in pickup trucks who are gun-toting racists who openly disrespect women.  It would be challenging religious fundamentalists – well-situated, white, and respectable in appearance who see themselves superior to those who are poor, different or who disagree.  I’m white and realize I’ve only been abused by white working-class men, by white people who sold me drugs, and by white religious fundamentalists.  My daughter was beaten up once by skin heads, a white supremist gang. In more recent years, the children shot in schools were shot by white boys. The children of color who were killed in their own neighborhoods were shot by white policemen.  What is with this white superiority?  How does race and income equal supremacy?

My hope and belief is that there are religious people who keep sight of our humanity while they worship, and who believe that all people are basically good. They see that some people make bad choices, get into trouble or addictions and, should get help if they choose to change.  They don’t quote chapter and verse from their Bibles and seem to tend to be more observant of the way things are. Self-righteous, rigid conservatives living in the evangelical bubble, staying safe from all the bad people, is a problem.  Their primary fault: their worst problem is that they usually cannot, or will not, call out a leader in error. The blinders are on.  Don’t touch God’s anointed.  I was a bystander, then a victim, then a perpetrator of religious bullying. 

 When I look back on the day I was expelled from the cult, it was the moment I became sick and tired of living in fear.  So, I’m not willing now to revert to a life of fear and silence. Even if things today are scary. During my fundamentalist stint, my fear of wrongdoing made me behave the way a germ-o-phobic handles being around other humans.  I feared the porn shops, the drug dealers near my kids’ school, and the rise of crime in my city. Which didn’t change anything. Honestly, back then I would have thought any man running for the position of POTUS who appeared godly would be a likely choice to deliver us from societal ills. We’re programmed by Hollywood, besides primal belief, that you are naturally better if you are rich.  The current POTUS claims he is going to fix the poor among us, even though his practices and politics may, in the final analysis, exacerbate poverty. Note, technically he’s only going to assist the white poor who have jobs.  

By the 90’s my view of home, community, work, state and nation had shifted to a deo-centric world, as a result of “being discipled” in a community that modeled itself on “the true church.”  My life became more and more about compliance.  I became rigid. In retrospect, I was using the childhood coping mechanisms for surviving an abusive, alcoholic father. Everyone at the cult, especially under new leadership, tried to maintain.  We tried to keep on the good side of the “anointed” leader, with little or no say.  It reminds me of Trump’s first set of staff.

Now, I notice and hear rigidity.  Could there be three, or more sides to our story? What if? I question the value of long term entrenchment in an uncivil war because, like it or not, we are all in this together.

Falwell’s Moral Majority disbanded in 1990, but the cult did not.  It lost members and was torn with divisions. I realized that much of the infighting was basically about money.  There were two tracts of valuable land in shared contracts. I wish it had been about mercy and justice, but it wasn’t.

A person can don a used world view, by slowly exchanging his or her current world view for a stronger story. This can be good like waking up, or not so great. I am working on a new view, a view of us, a We-View, as in we the people, and as in my fellow humans. I hope that history will show me some groups who survived nicely without the conquistador or monarch approach. Without slavery and cruel dominion.  Without a tantrum-throwing patriarch in the White House.  Self-aggrandizing lies. The Stock Market going up means that we don’t have rising poverty in our nation? Really?  The power of positive thinking is a business tool for the entitled and is the 45th president’s religion.

 I am led to wonder what political discourse would be like if we stopped trying to fix each other, or if we stopped standing across a chasm shouting with moral outrage? We may have a crisis in Washington that becomes a meltdown of government beyond a shutdown.  This isn’t a prediction of the end, just not great hope for a change for the better from this point.

The left and right see two different messes.  Two lenses. The conservatives see Trump as the Messiah [yes, Cyrus was called Messiah in his day] to clean up the Washington mess. Trump says he’s draining the swamp.  What will the gators do? Would it be possible for some thinkers and leaders to abandon party platforms – the glamour of power – and dig in to do something for the good of all?  That would be a we-thing. I think there are some people trying to in D.C.

I am encouraged by several incoming Congressional and state leaders, fresh thinkers…fearless people. Could local as well as big governments, schools, factories and businesses begin to learn to take a we approach?  Would a nation of united people, united by respect rather fear, solve many more pressing problems than if we continue in our present polarization? The following quote spoke to my sense I am backing into passive, woo-woo position.  Yes, I admit my innate, trained “white moderate” posture comes easily. And I am not fearless. I aim to not let my fears paralyze me.

One passage of King’s response seems especially apropos to this moment. In it, he confessed that he had become “gravely disappointed with the white moderate.” Too often, he said, they were “more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice,” and preferred “a negative peace, which is the absence of tension to a positive peace, which is the presence of justice.”  -Op Ed. Miami Herald, Leonard Pitts, Jr.

I think my search for a “new” view must sound ridiculous, childish.  Kids often just want parents to get along and be nice. We want people fighting wars to just stop. Or it might sound like I’m saying everybody move back to the middle, like the Centrists, which I’m not. I am not asking everyone to sit down and be quiet as in parental order. Change is messy. My inkling – as inarticulate as I am about it — is closer to something I could work for, better than hiding in my house, hoping without evidence for better news, while a greed-committed political world continues to abuse a heat-stricken planet, and another generation grows up who are vulnerable.  Trying to be perfect, to do it all right.  They may be likely targets for demagogues, as many conservative and uneducated voters were in 2018. 

I long for a positive peace. I will speak up for that. A person can don a new world view, by slowly exchanging his or her current world view for a stronger story. This can be good.

So, if you love Jesus, that’s fine.  I am advocating we think more about how to build our lives around things that matter, and truth and beauty matter. I want to continue to change my view in order to get something done for the good of others.  Currently we’re not promoting e pluribus unum, one out of the many, because the many aren’t having helpful conversations. Who has much of a voice today unless making headlines or Tweet storms?  But I conclude:  This nation will never be homogenous again.  Well, not ever without ethnic cleansing…

There really isn’t any going back – bringing back, as the POTUS says – the real America – unless you want to risk that attempt at greatness being enforced, as in, swallow the propaganda and lies [and forget to remember Hitler]. This is another area to pay attention.  I suspect that the current deepening of division of the American people makes us more vulnerable to the rise of a totalitarian leadership that none thinks could never happen here. 

*******************

Background note:

When Trump was elected, an article in The Guardian by Martyn Percy, a Church of England priest and the dean of Christ Church college, Oxford explained: 

“…Trump’s political rhetoric can be traced back further, to the specious singularity of his religious roots. Norman Vincent Peale, the pastor of New York’s Marble Collegiate church, was Trump Sr’s pastor and presided at the wedding of Trump and Ivana in 1977. Peale’s bestselling 1952 book, The Power of Positive Thinking, manifestly shaped the world of the Trumps. The book also launched the motivational thinkers’ industry, and its practitioners are businessmen just like Trump. Marketed on confidence, pragmatism, expectations of exponential growth and realising your dream, ambition or vision, it also shaped numerous Christian evangelical and fundamentalist ministries.”

Percy also wrote, “Graham, in signaling that Trump was a kind of Cyrus, was simply saying that evangelicals and fundamentalists could now rid themselves of a once dominant, centralising liberal hegemony, and reclaim their religious freedoms. They could do this even by voting for someone who manifestly doesn’t share their evangelical faith.”


Inspiring.

While renewing the domain on WordPress the other day, I stopped to think about the name we chose when L1 and L2 began co-blogging.

Inspiringteacherstowrite. That sounds to me (still) like a pretty big task for one little blog. I even feel guilty of hubris, like who thinks they can move overworked teachers to do anything? I will say in LSquared’s favor that, in our roles as teacher coaches and in professional development for the writing project (SJAWP), we have moved some to enjoy teaching writing more and have given them a taste of writing for writing’s sake.

Why did we hope to inspire others? To inspirit, to cause to breathe life in…I love the first entry in the online dictionary:

1.fill (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.

When you see the way that writing contributes to your own thinking and self-awareness, that’s reason. And when writing in a group causes you to know and understand a colleague and become deep friends, that’s reason. When a friend is completely ripped up by an injustice, then you can write alongside after you’ve heard her story, raw, fresh and out loud. Writing has meant so much more though than filling another with desire to do something creative, to do a bit of their own writing.

Like reading, writing is about meaning making. Making sense of difficult subjects like writing instruction. Difficult things like finding one’s voice. Making sense of the way education is managed in a locale and then teaching in a way that reflects my values and beliefs about what’s best for students. Without writing I never would have known the wise and true things others have discovered and established in practice along these lines.

With writing and reading we don’t have to stumble along in the dark on our own. Well, mostly not and not for long, if we are curious enough to learn.

The real task at hand is not inspiring others, whether they be teachers or students. Inspiring myself to write, to just start somewhere and renew the daily habit of getting some lines down, is really why I’m here today. Sitting in Crema. Which removes me from the bazillion distractions at home and which has the patina of happy memories of actually writing and talking about writing.

And now, I have to shift to a googledoc to brainstorm a short PD session for K-5 teachers on informational writing, to be given, alas, on the day the teachers return from winter break. How will I inspire them?

Time Transitions

take off SF.jpg

The first leg of the flight was 11 hours from SFO to Frankfurt.  If it had been just 11 hours sitting in an airplane that would be something, but we were flying east so it was getting later and later. I left on Thursday afternoon and arrived on Friday afternoon.  In Lyon it is 3:20 in the afternoon at the moment, but it is only 6:20 in the morning in San Jose.

So, after the calming parts of the flight, the serving of snacks, drinks and then dinner, the movie offerings bore me and I’ve tired of listening to The Alice Network, which is a good historical fiction book, I pull the navy cotton blanket around me and the teensy pillow and decide I should sleep.  Earplugs helped with the constant swooping air against the plane body mixed with the engine percussion.  I have even wearied of  watching the two hour sunset, tomato red at the horizon and splayed out across the huge patch of the horizon.  Not like our little in-town sunsets.  As the plane is flinging us east at over 600 mph, or some such speed, the sun keeps going down for a long time.

I shut the window shade and settle in.  In intervals which become shorter and shorter, I settle into rest, then shift to one hip and curl up a knee, then the other, then sit facing ahead and try another position, longing to recreate horizontal. But I can only approximate it.  This sleep, shift, wake, drop back into half-sleep seems to go on forever.  The hours pass and I never truly sleep.  So it goes for most of us on the flight until the cabin lights are turned on and breakfast comes down the aisles on carts.

I notice that my seat mate, a young woman who travels a great deal, has her phone charging on the screen as she watches a movie.  I regret that my charger is in the bag I put overhead.  But then I think, “I’ll have an hour layover in Frankfurt and I can charge it then.”

Landing in Frankfurt was part of my plan to avoid the delays at Parisian aeroportes.  As we deplaned, I looked on my text for boarding and it said Gate A21 but the marquis in the airport read A60.  I’d heard part of an announcement at the end of our flight about checking with the airport because some gates had been changed.  So I headed down the wide hallway, walking and walking, and turning down another hallway, walking more, for what seemed like a full mile.  Then there was a sign for A1-60 pointing down an escalator.  I followed a number of people into a room with automatic passport check lanes on the right and manual, meaning wait for a person at a booth to look at passports.  I pushed my passport into the auto read and a big x came up with the image of an attendant.  I tried again and a woman behind me simply pushed past me and inserted her passport.  I had to excuse me, excuse me back through the swarm of people and get in line for a person to check my passport.  This seemed unnecessary because I just got off a plane and a continuing flight shouldn’t need this, but a rather testy young agent assured me and another dissenter asking if we were in the right place, that we did indeed need our passports checked.

Then I headed back up the long hall I had walked down, now really pushing it, because it was boarding time.  I kept up with a young woman in cowgirl boots who was striding along with a big backpack. When I got back to the literal other end of the airport, I scanned my ticket and when into the little hall with a line of folks.  Our boarding path suddenly turned left down stairs (huh?  a stair they roll out to the plane?) and then into another little hall, through double doors and out to a curb where a bus waited.  “What?? I didn’t sign up for a bus to Lyon.”  A man looked at my ticket and waved me to the bus.

We squeezed in and the driver took the load of us through twisty turns and tunnels in the bowels of the Frankfurt airport.  Then his route went out into the taxi area and we dodged other busses and various transports driving.  It was hot and the AC was barely cooling the over crowded bus.  Finally we drove out to an area with Lufthansa planes parked and pulled up next to a small one being serviced.  The driver gave an announcement in 3 languages asking us to be patient.  I am beyond patient.  I’m going into full jet lag stun.  We duly watch the mechanic with the machinery finish whatever he was doing on the jet engine.

And we wait for the paperwork to be complete.  And then we board, but after taxiing the plane out onto the runway, another apology announcement explains that due to such and such about air traffic we won’t be allowed to start the engines for at least half an hour.  My hour layover spent traipsing up and down the Frankfurt airport and I’m on a small plane that has no outlets.  My phone is running out of juice and so am I.

We take off finally and this plane lurches and twists its way into the flight course, nothing like the big jet we’d spent 11 hours on.  At the Lyon airport, which is set out in a field, I claim my suitcase and add the carry-on on top of the handle and head out the door.  There are, I realize, various young persons in fatigues moving slowly out the door, each a couple yards distant from the other, maybe 8 of them, each cradling a machine gun, in their arms.  It is surreal.  I try to take it as support.

Lugging my two roller cases atop each other out toward the train, I ask a man walking by me on the road if I am headed in the right direction for the Rhone Express.  He says something affirmative in French, then offers to take my suitcases.  I am sleep starved and the sun is blazing, so it feels like a rescue as he navigates them down escalators to the train platform. “Merci!  merci!”

When I get off the train at Part-Dieux Station and cross to get a taxi, the driver does not know of my location, and consults with another cab driver about the address, then nods that he will take me to Octavio Mey.  I’d seen it on a map when I was going to take an Uber, but now my phone was at 3% and I was saving it to call my host.  The cab rushed through streams of traffic and I began to wonder if he did indeed know where he was going, but then he pulled over, took out my suitcases and I paid the Euros.

I was on the phone when my host came downstairs out of my apartment.

This was the moment, during his cheerful explanation of the keys and the apartment and a pitch for all the touristy things to do, that I realized I didn’t bring an adapter for French electrical outlets. I nodded and thanked my host and hurried him out.  With the last 2% on my phone I googled and found FNAC and hand wrote directions down for an 18 minute walk in the morning down river.  Without my phone for a day, I had no idea what time it was.

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The late afternoon in Lyon was blazing hot and I had to have the big double windows facing west shuttered. There seemed nothing to do except recharge, so I fell asleep with the fan blowing on me. I awoke and walked outside awhile to get some salad, then slept more.  All night I’d sleep a few hours and then awake to the people in the cafe’s below the window laughing, talking, drinking.  Which they did until about 5 a.m.

Later I realized I could keep the time by looking a the Gare St. Paul out the window.

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At dawn I listened to the scraping of metal chairs as the bakery was setting up and the smell of fresh bread baking wafted up into my apartment.

Finally, after pain au chocolate and a good long walk down river and back, then another one, with thunder and rain, because the first adapter I got wasn’t the right one, my jet lag left me.

 

 

Eat, Rest, Love

Those are the instructions on the front of one retirement card from my younger daughter.  I’m resting my feet on my  carry on bag in the SFO airport after eating a spinach salad with goat cheese and strawberries.

I arrived a bit early.  But everything else to do was done at home and I was so wired up.  Now I’m passing the time before we board for Frankfurt, then on to Lyon.

This blog seems a good place to post some photos and I can share the short link with my peeps so they can enjoy my retirement celebration vicariously.

Too bad I don’t have any cool photos — yet.

Teacher

Around the corner of the building at SJSU this morning comes a pair of legs with two strong hands clasped around a stack of boxes. It looks like a homemade robot as it lurches to a halt round the turn.  A large backpack, a coffee and a bag dangle from arms and a hand. Boxes of medium and small-size fit loosely together, and are piled up above the face.  But I recognize the hair.  Trigger happy, I’m unzipping my camera case and pulling for the lens cap immediately,

But, no, an assistant rushes over to help the box lady.

“Don’t help her!” I urge, getting closer and focusing.  “Hey, step back!”

But he’s a good man who ignores me completely and helps Ms. J. by taking half the load.  There’s her smiling face, so, as they head upstairs, I walk along side, admitting my human depravity.  “Hey, that was a portrait!  It was teacher. Yes, I’m bad. I cared more for an image in that moment, than for helping a fellow human being.”

She shrugs and takes the stairs to ready for Power & Poetry, her class at SJAWP Writing Workshop.

I’m still seeing her arrival.  Boxes.  A pile almost as tall as she is.  Prep for today’s discovery and deep thinking for her class.  It’s a portrait in my mind.

July 6 Sketch

Since I spent the better part of my day cleaning and organizing in my garage, this is what I drew with the sepia pen when I finally sat down to sketch.  It doesn’t look exactly like this, but it feels like this.

July 6 sketch

Boxes of books and curriculum.  Boxes and boxes.  Art supplies.  Creative camp unpacked.  With a new carton looming front stage left.

Why do we think less of a graphic novel?

Why did we have to dignify comics with the term “graphic novels?” And even picture books are not as valued as chapter books, it seems. What is this idea about academics being superior to and excluding art?

As far as writing goes, drawing is writing, and it preceded written literature.

In a world where most news is being presented live on site or by a video, wouldn’t school teachers do well to ensure their students are visually literate and can produce visual content?

The expressive ability of young students is sometimes stifled by insisting on correct sentences in paragraphs rather than using drawing with writing.

The social justice power in many current graphic novels for YA is going to be overlooked if every middle and high school English section is going to read the same text only literature.

I’m so grateful for teachers who are exploring graphic novelists.

But I’m noticing that some people still think it’s second class reading material.

The Implications of a Milkshake

In the Classroom: My feet tap nervously on the tiled floor.  My mind is on cognitive overload and I have the feeling of wanting to throw up.  I wish for an interruption; a fire drill, a phone call to the room, an announcement over the school’s speakers, a yellow slip saying I have to  go to the office because my mom is picking me up early, just ANYTHING to get me out of the current activity we are doing.

I look at the picture on my desk.  It is covered in plastic so that the teacher can torture another child with it the following year.  It is a fancy glass, curvy with white liquid.  On top is a mountain kind of looking thing, white and perfectly done with a red cherry on top.  I have already figured out that the white liquid is milk so I know it comes from a cow.  I know this because even though I may not know enough English, I have had many interactions with milk: I pour it on my cereal every morning, my mom uses it to make a delicious breakfast we call “arroz con leche” (rice with milk), my dad loves to pour it over hot yams, my brothers and I put some into coffee to make it so yummy, I always have to grab a little carton of it for lunch and the carton has the word ‘milk’ in bright red, capital letters so without anyone telling me, I already know that “leche” is milk.

I know all this, but I still don’t know what category this picture belongs to.  And soon it will be my turn to go up, in front of the entire class, and stick this thing into its food group.  But I can’t figure it out.  There are six groups up on the board, each represented with a different color.  The teacher put the names of each group on a bright label, but that is all and I don’t know all the words. I already used my Spanish to help me know that fruit is “fruta” and vegetables are “vegetales.” But the other four are a big mystery and I just can’t make sense of them.  One label says, ‘Bread, pasta, potatoes.’ I have never seen or heard those words and so far it is empty.  Another says ‘Meat, fish and alternatives,’ and it already has a picture of what looks like a naked chicken all plucked and hunkered over.  I am guessing that is the place to put things that come from animals, but I am not sure.  The yellow group says, ‘Cheese and dairy.’ A student put a picture of a block of yellow in it.  What is that? I scramble through my mind, trying to think of my family’s once a week visits to the grocery store.  Had I seen anything like that? Did we ever eat something that looked like a yellow block? I didn’t think so.  The last group was small but it had an extremely long label, ‘Fats, oils and confectionaries.’

“Lorena!” the teacher hollered my name and it threw me out of my long chain of desperate thinking.  Time was up.

With my heart hammering in my throat and my legs feeling like gelatin, I pushed away from my desk as if it was pulling me back, and slowly made my way to the board.  My sweaty, nervous hands began to tug at the picture, folding the corners.

“Don’t do that!” admonished the teacher.

His reprimand accompanied with his glare that I was getting all too familiar with, only made me feel small and to wish I could run away.  But I was stuck and my feet made their own decision to move me closer to the board.

The gaze of 20 something pairs of eyes on my back was tangible.  I couldn’t see my classmates, but I knew they were all watching.  I took another frantic look over the food groups pleading for a miracle.  None came.  No interruptions either.  With hesitant hands, I quickly jabbed the picture next to the naked chicken.  Milk came from cows and cows were an animal and this group had an animal in it.

The class burst into laughter.  Did they think I was being funny?  Or was this like all those other times when they laughed AT me, thinking, ‘jeez this girl knows NOTHING!’  I swallowed the hard lump of my heart in my throat, snatched the picture back and slapped it on the bottom group: Bread, pasta, potatoes.  More laughter, uncontrollable this time.  The teacher immediately stepped in, but first he shot me another glare.

Teaching Implications: No child, not even language learners or children of a different race, are empty vessels.  They come to the classroom having had experiences AND language that they can use to make sense of what is happening within the classroom walls.  We need to know our students, all of them, so we are familiar with who they are because they are people too. Let’s tap into their experiences, their knowledge, and most of all their language instead of thinking they know nothing.

Develop a community where students support and learn from each other.  We are not the only teachers in the room.  And our behavior is used by students as a model of how they should respond to each other.  Glare at a child and the students will take your cue as a sign of how this student deserves to be treated.  So they pick up on your glares and other body language and begin to treat the student in a similar fashion, often in worse ways.

Allow students to talk.  Establish your expectations for partner talk routines and group work.  What would have happened had I just been allowed to talk to one of my classmates about the picture in my hands?

We take for granted how much we teach with words, spoken words.  It doesn’t take too much time (especially now when we can easily search with Google images) to get visuals and incorporate them into lessons.  We can even make quick sketches in the moment to support new vocabulary.

Lifelong Implications: I am certain we all have nuggets of memories from our early school days.  There are many different reasons of why we cling to those memories.

This memory tugs at me quite often.  Because of it, I now see how in the preceding years of school I put my efforts towards fading into the classroom walls and becoming invisible.  I was not the student with a hand raised or the student who wanted to be table monitor much less line leader.  And if ever I was called on by the teacher, my face would first turn bright red and it always made my stomach go upside down and then I would barely mumble something out.  This still happens.

I was suddenly embarrassed by my family and our culture.  I had witnessed firsthand how everything I knew and was familiar with was not validated in school.  So what if we had milk in our house? The way we used it didn’t count in school.  Apparently all our visits to the grocery store didn’t matter because we didn’t buy yellow cheese in yellow blocks (ours was white and came in a wheel shape and we crumbled it over enchiladas, beans, and lots of over foods).  And our language wasn’t helpful.  Actually my first language got in the way of me learning.  All of this came to my realization from that milkshake.  And it has taken many years (honestly I am still working on it) to undo the damage and embrace who I am (Mexican culture and all) and to see how beautiful Spanish is and that it is a language worthy of knowing.

Lastly, I am so afraid of getting up in front of people.  After that moment, I recall almost dying every time I had to do a presentation or a report or a speech or whatever other confounded project teachers made up to get students to show their learning. I remember many sleepless nights as I lay worrying in bed.  Would they laugh at me, would they think I was dumb?

Just Forget It

The New Year is well underway, so make sure to get off on the right foot by forgetting about these items.  Just forget it!

10.  All the people that you slept with (or not) last year

9. The amount of times that you did not blog in 2017

8. The time you overpaid for some thing at the grocery store, by the way, toss the receipt

7. All previous attempts to lose weight

6. The evenings when you concluded a healthy salad dinner with a big slice of (insert flavor here) _____ cake with ice cream, whip cream, chocolate drizzle, cherry, banana on top while downing it with a (insert flavor here) ____ milkshake

5. Any and all cashiers who never ask about your day or you or how it’s going

4. The series of days you committed to watching an HBO series that went nowhere (the main character wasn’t ever dead and the mom was the real mom all along)

3. All mornings when you woke up crying…because you didn’t want to go to work!

2. Promises, promises, promises – do you EVEN remember what you promised? It’s to your benefit to forget them

1. Your 2018 New Year’s Resolutions

Roasted Sweet Potatoes

I am in the middle of preparing sweet potatoes and recalling why I stopped eating them.  They are hella hard to slice and dice.  Seriously, you need an electric drill to cut one up – or could it be that all my knives are dull?

With the sweet potatoes in the oven and the smell of the bell peppers that I mixed in with the potatoes infusing the air, I thought back to Laura’s words.  “Finding your voice.” How lucky that children get to hear that phrase for a writing class.  Even though I am an adult, may I attend?  You see, no one told me as a child that I should find my voice, well no one even told me that I had one to start with. Here’s what I did have:

I sit at a desk, the kind very like the ones in the Peanuts cartoon.  The wooden seat is connected to the desk and the top of the desk opens so you can sneak all kinds of non-school stuff into the space beneath.  There is a little cradle for my yellow pencil and a crisp, white sheet of binder paper is in front of me.  The teacher is talking.  I hear his voice, but I don’t know enough English to know what exactly he is saying.

He’s old, white tufts of hair poke out of his head.  His large, thick glasses give him the appearance of an owl, but they don’t hide his eyes that often glare at me.  He’s wearing what he always seems to wear: plaid shirt in boring colors of brown, red, black and brown slacks with brown shoes that have little laces.  Because I’m lost in examining this aged man and looking over the details of his clothing, trying to imagine what he is like outside of the classroom, I miss the directions.  It wouldn’t have helped me to pay attention anyway.  The words would have just floated over my head. Without any images, I grasped nothing.  Without having the chance to talk to a classmate, I understood nothing.

As I move my eyes away from the brown shoes with the little laces tied neatly, I see that all the students are furiously writing on their sheets of paper.  I can almost hear the soft scratching of the lead on the page.  I see Emily, the girl with the longest blond hair in class, scrawling on her paper, her face intense, her skinny legs crossed in the way that she always did when she was in absolute concentration. Or maybe she just really had to use the bathroom.

Panic! I see everyone writing, but about what?  In a useless attempt that I know won’t work, I try to peer over Sam’s hunched back to get a glimpse of his paper, to see what he is doing. His back is too big and I can’t even see his arms.  More panic.  I want to be a good student, I try to follow directions, I want to please the teacher and make him smile the way I see he smiles when Emily talks.  My efforts have only gifted me glares and snickers so far.

I focus back on my sheet of paper.  I have to write something.  I start by slowing etching out the letters in my name.  Then I take three minutes to lay out the letters of my last name.  Five more minutes to write the date as neat as I have ever written it.  I glance around, hoping that something has changed, but the room is still silent with all the students hunkered over their papers, their hands flying over the page. I look at everyone, all in the same position.  I notice the obvious that I noticed on the first day I walked into the room: everyone has a backpack tucked into the bowl that is beneath the wooden seat.   Backpacks of beautiful colors, yellow, bright red, sky blue, pink. I look under my seat.  It is empty. My family can’t afford a backpack for me.

The beeping oven brings me to the present.  Aaahhh, the smell of bell peppers.  I take the tray out of the oven and poke the sweet potatoes.  Perfectly soft. I know they are violently hot, but I can’t resist.  I stab one with a fork and bring it to my mouth.  Yup super hell hot.    But even through the heat, I savor the mix of the sweet with the tang of the bell pepper.  So good.