Category Archives: Writing

Guilt

Did I tell you about the time when I ran away from my father?  I was at a casino with my mom, visiting her for the weekend and mom just loves to feast on the casino buffet, so I took one for the team and accompanied her.

On our way out, she suddenly exclaimed, “There’s your dad!”

And sure enough there he was.  Seated at a slot machine, alone, staring into the screen.  His back was to me, but the dirty old baseball cap and dark gray hooded sweater gave him away.  Seconds went by and I didn’t know what to do.  I found my legs walking the other way, moving back.

“You have to say hi to him, ” my mother hissed.

My legs didn’t want to say hi. They took me in the other direction. Dad would not be happy with me visiting mom and not even telling him I would be in town.  I could already see his angry face, deep frown, harsh cold words spewing forth, “you should tell me when you come…look at you, you’re here and you didn’t even tell me…”  I swallowed and headed out the door, my mom racing to keep up with me.

And then the guilt.  Had he seen me?  Maybe my bright sweater gave me away and he saw my reflection on the screen.  Maybe he had turned in time to see me racing out the door.  How would he feel?  Why didn’t I just say hi?

Oh and then it really started pouring.  Pouring guilt, GUILT.  I could see my day of reckoning and the sky would be a television playing all the awful things I had ever done and there would be the image of my poor dad playing a slot machine and my cruel self running away from him.  And he would be seated next to me, seeing the same things I was seeing.  He would witness how I scampered away, away from my own father.  Guilt, guilt, guilt, guilteeeeeeeeee.

The next day as soon as I left work I called him.  I told him how much I thought of him and that no matter how busy I was, that I always thought of him and I wanted him to know that he was always on my mind.  And then for bonus points I told him I would send him money, that I just wanted to make sure I still had the correct address.  I mailed him a fat check and slept really well that night.

Several days later I called him again. Robot voice telling me he had not set up his message service. Great.  Typical dad thing to do.  I called again 30 minutes later. Same robot voice.  Not able to leave a message.  I called again in an hour.  Same. I texted my brother and asked if he had visited him.

“Dad’s in Mexico, he took off Friday.” BAM! The pieces came together.  Dad cashed my check and without a word to me, left the country.  Not even a warning that he would be out traveling, simply took the money and sent himself on a trip.

Hmmmmm did he get a glimpse of me that day at the casino and played me like a violin to get money?

I gave guilt a fat kick out the door.

Life

Every time I drive home and it’s dark enough to see inside people’s lit homes, I sneak a peek.  Doesn’t everyone do that?  The lights are on and you can see what is happening inside the home.  I can’t help it.  I try to imagine what the people inside are doing, what their day was like, what their talking about.  I want to know their story.

Sitting in the passenger seat today, heading home, I gazed out the car window into the house windows.  I saw the same in each.  Soft light.  A lamp.  The kitchen.  TV glowing.  And I could imagine a person or people seated on the sofa nearby, watching, losing themselves in the TV show.

And I wondered if this is how they wanted to live.  They worked 8 hour jobs, came home, ate, and then surrendered themselves to the TV.  Relief.  Fantasy.  Not reality. Maybe they needed the TV to forget the torture of the real life they were living.  Maybe it was a distraction so that they wouldn’t overthink life and create an uprising of sorts.

And then I thought, isn’t this such a weird way to live?  Everyone inside their boxes, looking at  a screen…day after day after day?  What about the real life that is here?  What about the real life that is passing by each and every day?  Life doesn’t just happen on the weekends, but on Monday and on Wednesday and Thursday even!

I don’t want to live my life in a TV show.  I want to feel every moment, every breath so that when I am 80 and about to finally kick the bucket I can say that I felt life, that I was present in every second of it.  And sometimes this thought overwhelms me because this is all we have, we won’t get a do over, there is no encore, there are not repeat performances here.  It is final clearance, everything must go.

And then it brings me to ask, is this how we want to live?  The more I think about this question, the more I see that I don’t want to live with an 8 hour commitment that doesn’t make me happy, I don’t want to go home and lose myself in other lives because my own is too painful, I don’t want to just look forward to the weekend (“Good morning!” “Happy Wednesday!” “Yeah, one day closer to the weekend!”).

I want to know that when it is my time to go, that I didn’t live life, but rather lived.

Journey of Thought

The San Jose Area Writing Project

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March 18, 2017
Saturday Seminar
San Jose State University | Teachers K-12 | When: 9:00AM – 12:30PM
 

Writing Lively Reviews (Grades K-6)

In Living Between the Lines, author and teacher trainer Lucy M. Calkins writes, “I needed to listen to the life force I felt…when children had energy for writing….to find ways to help more writers have the intensity and urgency that would lead them to write not only more developed pieces, but also more alive pieces.”

Come write about reading you love. This writing genre incorporates a perfect combination of reading, opinion writing, and interpretative thinking. During this session, we will practice the ways skilled readers and reviewers think about familiar forms and craft in literature. Original thinking in thesis development will be highly encouraged, which will then be expressed within a cohesive, structured argument. If you haven’t written a literary essay before, this is the place to try it out. If you’re experienced with the genre, here you can fine-tune your skills for reviewing articles, blogs, books, film, etc.

Coherence in Argumentation: Incidents and Accidents, Hints and Allegations (Grades 6-12)

Clear, coherent arguments are never as straightforward as our outlines and graphic organizers make them out to be. The truth is that when we write an argument, we create multiple needs and expectations for our reader, which we must address if we are to argue coherently. In this workshop, we will discuss how the messy struggle to achieve coherence is actually a good thing, and examine ways to encourage our students to embrace the challenge.

 
For more details: visit www.sjawp.org | Register online: visit our online registration form

Earn units for participating: visit http://sjawp.org/credit-information/

OLW [one little word] Update

Love.   We can almost say that love is everything that touches on eternity, that gives us a sense of something good and greater than the sum total of what we are, that points to what is best in the human spirit, and maybe what animates the glorious teeming life we enjoy on this little blue planet.  We can almost say what it is, but not quite.

This morning I wrote a spiritual leader a short story to explain why I do not need to meet with her now.  We had agreed to talk sometime in February about the pains I was experiencing connected to years in a “church” that became an oppressive cult.  [Are there any which are not oppressive?]

I attended the New Year’s service at CSE (Center for Spiritual Enlightenment)  to set our intentions for Dharma 365, which is a daily practice of meditation and a reflective journal for the year.  I placed the pinch of incense on the burning coal and then stood as we were invited to experience the fulfillment of our intention.

My intention was to manifest a primary love partner.  I could completely create the experience the joy, oneness, and thrill of being in love with a partner who was my best friend and lover.  Yep, it’s going to happen.  I believed.

So, I set out from New Years in the online course, Dharma365, with purpose and curiosity.  Early a.m. meditation had become a kind of life line for me, as a busy educator who was also caring for an 88 year old mother living with me who suffered heart failure over New Years.

Two years ago, when I took the Tuesday night class two month class on meditation, I had enjoyed about eight months of uninterrupted daily meditating.  At that time, I had heard the teaching, the claim,  that super conscious meditation can change the brain maps, or the force of the habits of mind we carry.  And I frankly could not believe that.  I told a close girl friend so, and she challenged me with, “And so, what if it does?”

Somewhere in the first 40 days of this year, my love candle I had purchased from the CSE bookstore was almost spent.  I have a little altar, a small table where I sit in the predawn to meditate.  I went to the book store to get a replacement and — what?  Out of love candles?  Surely there can be no shortage of love!  And so I chose the “Confidence” candle – because I knew by now that I needed to place my confidence somewhere other than my lower case e ego.

What had happened, as the love candle burned into February, was that one morning the entire love joy/suffering I carried for my husband of 16 years whom I divorced about 16 years ago — the love I felt for James, that I didn’t realize was in my heart — was lit up in my full consciousness — the entire map.  And I just sat there being with it.  All of it. It was enlightening to realize that the relationship was not closed in my heart and that what I was intending in 2017 was somehow a version of having the ex husband back.

I also had bought Yogacharya’s book, The Moon Reminded Me, and there’s a line from the woman who wrote the preface in which she explained that her her spirituality was entangled with the pain of missing her deceased lover.  Her words confirmed what I sensed had happened to me.

My relationship with that second husband had began in spiritual quest, in seeking God and rearranging our lives to serve Jesus in a small Christian community.  (Yes, some things went terribly wrong in time there, but that’s another story.)

My morning meditation, when my heart was open by grace, had not only healed me of a lingering pain of attachment to a long gone relationship,  but also showed me the triggers I was experiencing in Sunday services at CSE were not really about previous cult leader abuses.  They were reactivation of my loss of love.  Think I was giving this person a little too much power, or what?? 🙂

Needless to say, my recent visits to commune and meditate at CSE have not been fraught with those old maps from my brain.  I hope not to underestimate the power of super conscious meditation again. If I do, the Universe will be happy to instruct me.

Staying open to love, and realizing that I meditate because I do love myself.  And confident that I have much to learn.
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A Little Seed

And the little seed fell to the ground.  She could feel the other little seeds plummeting along with her.  Heading to the rich brown earth.  It was a cheerful a moment.  Being born, set free, each seed on its way to find its own life.

And the little seed dug herself deep into the earth where the dirt was darker, richer, with more to give for life.  Thinking that her seed friends were doing exactly as she, the little seed shoved as best she could, knowing that the further she dug herself into the dirt, the likelier her chance to get nutrients and to survive.

And the little seed, twisting, tugging, turning, settled into a cocoon of dirt, deep in darkness, surrounded by moisture laden earth.  Having settled herself and with a final wiggle, the little seed exhaled a deep sigh and closed her eyes for rest.  She thought her seed friends, who were probably not that far from her, were doing the same.

And the little seed came to find that being in the dirt was not that fun.  The time dragged painfully, seconds were stifling.  The little seed could only look around at the darkness.  Sometimes the tightness of the dirt made her feel as if she could not breathe.  But she would think of her seed friends, who were suffering the same as she.  She thought there were a few who were probably fighting better than her.  This gave her motivation to keep breathing.  She could do it too.

And the little see realized it took so much work to begin growing herself out of the dirt.  It hurt, it was exhausting, sometimes the dirt had nothing to give and the little seed had to keep pushing to stretch out of the darkness.  Each move brought her closer to sun, she needed light now.  She was ready for it.  But the seed had to work for it.  She would shut her eyes and fight with her little seed heart to move a bit more.  She thought her seed friends were there, pushing up too.

And the little seed found the ray of sun. She poked a little out of the dirt.  Was this really it? She breathed in fresh air.  She knew she would soon see her seed friends.  But now they would probably not be seeds…

And the little seed became a tiny plant.  Little leaves sprouted from her stem and she could see so much around her.  But the little seed was alone.  Where were her friends?  Maybe they still hadn’t breached the earth? The little seed waited.  And waited. And waited.

And the little seed suddenly had to accept that her seed friends were not coming.  All she had thought about them doing the same as her had been wrong.  They hadn’t fought as hard as her to survive.  They hadn’t pushed or toiled to get out. They were not coming.  The little seed, looking at her leaves and growing blossom, accepted that she apparently fought that much harder, had kept herself going even in the toughest of conditions and she had earned the right to now feel the warm rays of sun.

Memento Mori

Early this morning, the car in front of me at the light on 10th was a silver grey something, maybe a Mustang or a Camaro.  The back end didn’t have a bumper but a silver skull in relief was mounted on the high back end.  The message I got was hell bent, or death defying. Definitely about young and rambunctious.  Danger doesn’t scare this dude.  Car says power.

At the same time I looked across the intersection where a wheelchair was stopped on the sidewalk.  There was a body bent forward, head over knees, not moving.  Just as the light changed and I pressed the accelerator, an elderly person in a hood sat up and put hands on to start the wheelchair rolling.  The message I got was breath gave this person a reprieve from death. Strength to go on.

As I drove I thought about my youthful days in which I didn’t think I would ever live to 40, nor did I suspect I might actually grow old.  The aging try to hold off death and the young defy it.  Yet death persists.

Perhaps remembering of our mortality, in a conscious way, might offer more appreciation for the breaths and the moments we get to enjoy.

My granddaughter has a tattoo “memento mori” and it sobers me that a young woman has that perspective and wisdom.

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Just Because I Want To

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I don’t know any educators who get to only write for fun, but I do get worried when my writing life is filled with prompts for pragmatic things, for work and writing project.  And now, between rain storms it is sunny in California.

I have a new “chair” – actually a saddle stool, hoping that I can sit more ergonomically at my writing desk.  It is very much like a Western saddle I used to use on horses, except that it is cushioned and swivels.  The amount of sitting in small plastic chairs I do testing students and the amount of sitting I did recently for projects drove me to investigate alternative chairs.  Something is up with my hips now that my feet are functioning again.

I also got a wood kneeling type chair though Amazon which is currently in a pile in the open box.  The bolts and the drills in the wood pieces don’t match so, try as I might, I would begin to get one part together and another section fell apart.  I felt like a kid challenged by TinkerToys.  And, of course, now I get to wait for a “technician” to email me.  “What seems to be the issue?” a nice phone person asked when I called on my lunch hour.  “Well, the drills are too big for the bolts, so the bolts don’t screw in. They fall out.”

For this I need a technician?

It is lovely that the days are getting longer.  I can see shapes out in the garden and the sky is still blue grey at almost 6 pm.  I took a walk around the square of 4 city blocks and admired new blossoms in front yards and how things look when the sun comes out.  May as well enjoy it because day after tomorrow the winter rains come back.

I have a good book going now, getting into Anthony Doerr’s collection of short stories.  The first, the title story, “The Shell Collector,” was weird but kept me reading.  I like the way he writes, so I don’t have to love the story.  It is good for my mind to be back into a book, rather than spinning out about my profession, house needs, etc.

Now, I haven’t found a central thread, or a really kicky idea to organize this post around.  But I have moved my fingers, done some description, let words go where they will and followed along.  It feels good to write as an exercise, just as it feels good to walk for exercise.  Getting back to my desk daily.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just a day in the Life of…

I suppose Laura would say that this post is of the type made to keep me surviving.  Writing to survive I think she would say.

So, I still have my day gig.  Still doing the coaching thing.  Apparently I can still  function while on the job.  And today was one of those days that makes me think I might possibly get fired soon.  I led a half day PD for Kinder through 2nd grade teachers.  I liked it, I guess.  It was ok, nothing brilliant or amazing, just kinda blah.

At some point during the PD, the enormity of what I am trying to do or what my district has been attempting, hit me. HARD.  We’re trying to get teachers to understand writing, to embrace the writing process, to see beyond perfection, to approximate, to confer, to teach, to write, to think out loud, to gather small groups, to publish, to trust their writers, to lose control, to facilitate, to put all that they have been doing for years off to the side and try something different. Gulp.

No wonder we’re just spinning our wheels.  No wonder I often get the looks of,”Whoa, this coach has no idea what the hell she is talking about.  My kids can’t do that, my kids need an organizer to get their thoughts clear. My kids need a lot of structure.”

So I walked away from that PD, with all kinds of thoughts and then jumped into the fire when I went to the main office to read a jumbled email from a group of upper grade teachers who had apparently spent more than a week teaching ONE minilesson to the kids. ONE.  That meant they were drilling and killing, trying to get the kids to master and write this one thing perfectly.  GULP.  Poor kids.  Poor, poor kids.  Sitting there, taking it each day, showing up only to have to practice the same thing over and over… My heart squeezed itself hard as I imagined the torture of having to experience something like this.  Sure, I don’t mind washing dishes over and over until I get the movements perfect as dictated to me by some other person.

This golden moment, really sparkled when my supervisor walked in and  saw the email.  I saw her mouth open, then she swallowed her words and a mumble escaped.  Usually she is so thoughtful, positive, trying to decipher why teachers do what they  do and thinking of how to support them, but this apparently was too much.

“What?! Why? Oh, dear.  Bam, bam, bam.” She faked hitting her head against a wall. That was all I needed.  Perhaps my calling is to  be an Oreo taste tester.  Have they made pancake and maple syrup Oreos yet?  How about glazed doughnut Oreos?  Really I am in the WRONG profession.

An Afternoon with Peter Elbow

So it was Saturday afternoon.  And I had prepared some wise words that I would say to Peter Elbow.  They were going to sound so grand, like nothing he’d ever heard before. So incredible they would be that he might write them down and use them later in a book.

So I took a seat amongst twelve or so.  And greedily started snacking on sweet cookies.  The Oreo kind because that is the only cookie worth having in the same room as Peter Elbow. Just as I finished munching away on the last bite of sugary goodness, I realized I was all out.  I had eaten my 4 daily allowances of cookie. Lost in thought about Oreo yumminess and whether I should peruse the kitchen for other snacks, I felt a movement near my side. To my utter shock, Peter took the chair next to me. A hard swallow.  A sip of tea.  Do I say something now or later? Is now a good time? Should I wait?  Like pretend I don’t know who he is? Maybe just act as if I don’t notice he’s sitting there. La, da, da, just sitting here, staring off to the side, no Peter Elbow next to me, nope don’t even see him…

“I’m Peter, what is your name?”

CRAAAAAAAP! I know who you are! I know EXACTLY who you are!! Oh dear God, this means I actually have to talk to him! Jesus, what is my name again?

“I’m Lorena.”

“Ladonna?”

“No, Lorena.”

“Oh, Lorena?”

“Yes, that’s it.”

He shakes my hand.  Touch. Warm. And then it hits me: I touched Peter Elbow!! The high school girl in me jumps up and down and then runs around screaming.

Smiles. I look into his eyes. They are blue, a very nice blue.  I see that the chair he is sitting in is low to the ground and his long legs just sort of stick out from the chair. Tiny white lint covers his black pants and his brown shoes are scuffed.  None of these details that I am gathering in serve to teach me that he is a normal person.  I refuse to accept that Peter Elbow has lint on his pants or that his shoes are scuffed.  Maybe his wardrobe assistant suddenly called in sick and so there wasn’t time to remove the lint?  Perhaps the real pair of shoes that he was going to wear got damaged on the flight and so he borrowed a pair from Jonathan Lovell?

So I find myself seated next to Peter Elbow and I can’t summon the words I wanted to tell him.  He is a giant and I am just …Lorena.  He has written books, one that took 8 years to write and it took me 8 years just to reach the age of eight! I am quiet.  I try to summon the courage to have something to say.  But that inner shy persona who I battle with everyday has won again.  I just sit and sip tea, too mesmerized by the giant writer at my side.

Not the Grandma Kind

My grandma was not the grandma type.  I think she didn’t take the classes about particular grandma behaviors and definitely missed the course about Grandmother Nurture 101.  No, grandma didn’t fit any of the stereotypes for a grandma.

None of her grandchildren EVER called her grandma, not even in Spanish.  She was too tough for that.  No matter how old she was or how she reminded me of a raisin with legs and arms, we never dared to call her grandma.  We preferred to call her “Ñen” and where that came from has its own stories. My mother claims it came to be because her first name is Carmen and one of her children couldn’t pronounce it correctly.  An aunt says it’s because that was her nickname as a child.  Either way, no one was ever heard calling her grandma, or grammy, or gramma.

When I once fell into a cactus and ended up with a thousand needles in my arm, I went crying to grandma.  I ran up to her, the tears cleaning the dirt from my face, and burst into telling her all that had happened to me.  I thought for sure that as most adults tended to do that she would comfort me and then remove the pain and then give me some treat afterwards as a way to elevate herself into showing that she was the kind of adult who could care for kids. I got none of that.  NO comfort, NO getting rid of the pain, NO treat. Grandma looked up from her work of cracking walnuts, gazed at me for a second, huffed, cracked another walnut and muttered to me, “Why didn’t you make the sign of the cross when you were running around?”  I was dumbfounded. WHAT? Didn’t she see I was in a world of hurt?  HEEEEELLLLOOOO, tons of tiny needles in my arm!! I must have stood there for a while because I thought for sure she would do something, but she kept cracking walnuts and didn’t bother to look at me.  I had to lick my own wound that day.  And I never   sought grandma out again.

When grandpa died, I somehow won the lucky seat of being next to her at the funeral.  I took my seat beside her and crossed my legs.  Then began the painful thinking of trying to string  words to say to her on this occasion.  What should I ask? What was there to say to this woman at this moment? Uhhhh, we’re all going to miss grandpa? He had a great life? HA! No one was going to miss him and he hadn’t had a great life.  I wrung my hands, uncrossed my legs, then crossed them again.  I wanted to look to see who was sitting behind me, as I could feel eyes on my back as if the whole of everyone there was waiting for me to say something to this woman next to me.  Finally, I turned to her and my breath caught.  There in the seat next to me, sat a tiny woman.  She looked so frail, so fragile that I almost didn’t recognize her.  I felt so awful for having sat next to her for so long and not said a thing.  I gulped a massive ball of guilt and began stammering, “I, I, ummm,…” She looked up at me, large brown eyes seeing into me.  She smiled and lifted up a wrinkled brown hand.  I thought she was going to hug me and leaned in closer.  She pointed her brown leathery finger and asked, “Do those pointy boots hurt your feet?”  BUT of course! Even in a moment like this, she was still strong as a horse.  She wasn’t going to talk about hurt or missing grandpa, HELL, she thought my boots were hurting me!

She was not a woman to give hugs or kind words or make cookies.  She didn’t smell like a grandma, she didn’t have soft flowy gray hair, and she didn’t spend her day in the kitchen.   Nonetheless, she was my grandma.