Thursday, October 17, 2019

Fleeting Moments

"IMG_5301.JPG" by shawnchin is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 

She stood poised at the edge of the platform, woolen hat, like a cloud of beige, slung back behind her head. Her eyes riveted. Her face lean and serious. A split second statue, really, a profile that could be cast in stone. She was an unknown, anonymous to me, a fleeting stranger waiting for the 6:30 commuter train. A deep blue sky framed her, and the sun cast a spotlight on her private moment...the same one I, a perfect stranger, glimpsed as I sailed by in my rental car. I was the passerby,  pointed in the direction of the airport, heading home after a few days away.

She'd never know I'd spotted her. I'm sure she wouldn't care. Her eyes were set on her screen. Others shuffled around and past her. She gave no notice. A world of cars coming and going moved at  moderate speed, competing for space within the lanes of the crowded highway. But something about her captured me. Generic, I thought. Her pose, her eyes, her stance. We are all generic to one another. The screens hiding us, eliminating the need to interact, to respond, to initiate any kind of interaction. In fairness, it was 6:30 AM. Early commuters not ready yet to engage the brain.

But, my travels near and far across this country illustrate much the same. Screen dominated humans, old and young, this is what we've become.

A seventy-ish couple seated across from me too, huddled together--each with their faces careened toward their screens. Who knows what's captivated them. It's so funny to watch them shift their heads up and down to accommodate their progressive lenses, squinting all the while too. What could it be they're looking at? A Lady Gaga video? Their 401K portfolio? Pictures of their grandchildren? It's a game I play with myself. Silly, I know. I stare.

And then sometimes it's me that's riveted on my screen. Guilty of missing the moments that live right in front of me. My screen, apparently, now accumulates the amount of time I spend staring at my own phone. I am painfully aware of my own screen habits, I don't need Google to remind me.

But now, I sit. I stare a long stare. That sky, the planes, the comings and goings of the airport. The accumulating luggage alongside my plane. What are the lives of these people that support me and my life? I try now to approach these fleeting moments, cross sections of strangers, accumulated fleeting moments that some might think are a dead zone. But for me? The writer, the human, the teacher, the parent. I love to lift my head and engage. I don't apologize for my curiosity. I am not nosy. I'm a seeker. Living in the moment, collecting moments. Practicing presence. There are too many moments I've missed. Work. Busy-ness. On the go. Constantly moving. Now? I'm concentrating. I'm holding on to what is real. Enjoying the human lives that surround me always. Appreciating all that's human, I am anonymous to them, riveted from inside the window of my mind. 

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Sweetness of it All

It's over. For another year. But is it? My daughter found a way to keep Halloween alive all year long. When she was very little, she kept that costume out, sitting on the other twin bed in her room for days afterward. It became a part of the dress-up costume world. But even then, she was thinking--what will I be next year? And, as a mom that didn't have a clue about a needle and thread, let alone a sewing machine--I cringed, and let her formulate her game plan, knowing I was going to have to find a way to pull together another Halloween dressing scheme. She loved to dress up, to reinvent herself, to linger in the thoughts of what could be! My boys, too, had hats and masks and swords...dressing up, and play-acting is how they lived.

And isn't that what childhood is and should be?

Why then, do we go on, as adults to try and fit ourselves into all sorts of square pegs? Can't we linger a little longer, invent and reinvent ourselves? Imagination never, ever goes out of fashion, and yet--we, the adults, tend to fall prey to that scheme. I'm no longer that, let me be'll bring me more money or even a bit of fame?

Following a passion and imagining oneself into a new pair of shoes, exploring possibilities...rather than simply growing up and following one zombie and another into a dull or ordinary job, now that is the way we should be bringing up our kids. Let them chase, play, and savor. What would it be like if we let go of the dull and ordinary path--and chose a path peppered in candy corn? Savor the sweetness, play in the obsession, savor the dream, the ways to tinker with this or that to find a new way? Creativity is just that. Just because I am this...doesn't mean I have to stay that way. Life and humans are fluid.

And even now, after years of living and moving along a number of different paths, I find myself reinventing, rethinking, re-engineering. I only have so many years to do this, so why wouldn't I take in all the sweetness I can?

Halloween is, after all, for the young of heart. And as long as this heart is passionate and the brain can still conjure up a few dreams, I will stay with the chase and seek that sweetness each and every day of my life. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

Taking Time to Smell the Roses

Retirement life...well, not exactly. I spend the time explaining to people on the road and at home what I've chosen to do and how that connects to the concept of retirement. I have come to one conclusion, I am not the classic retiring type, and really don't know anybody who is.

In the past month, I've traveled from South Carolina to lower Manhattan, from Pennsylvania to the Upper Peninsula (boy is it getting cold there!) to the middle of Ohio and then to Santa Fe. By the end of my current trip, which is from northern Chicago to Wisconsin, I'll have covered countless miles on land and in the air. I'm working hard to get as close to 10K steps in as well each day! I'm busy, yes. But gratified as well.

When I face a new group of teachers at each stopping point, I thank my lucky stars that I have as much experience as I've had over the years, connecting with kids around reading and writing. I talk to them about legacy, something that can get lost when we're dealing with data and testing and the countless emails we get as educators each and every day. I love my new job. It connects the dots to what I've done in the past and the future of America's kids with an enthusiastic group of hard-working teachers across this great country of ours.

But along the way, I've had to stop myself to take the time, catch my breath and smell the rose of the moment that looms in front of me.

A week or so ago, it was a rental car attendant, Gabriel, that checked my ID and my papers at Hertz in Ohio. It was 1:00 in the morning. I'd gotten in way later than I'd expected due to airline delays (never a surprise). Gabriel was enamored by the spelling of my name, and proceeded to share his varied heritage with me once he knew how my name tied to my Irish background. He told me about his hopes and dreams, his bucket list...the Great Wall, castles in Eastern Europe, it went on and on. But I could tell from Gabriel's attire--his frayed shirt and pants, his whiskered face, that perhaps it might be hard for him to meet those hopes and dreams. So, I took that moment to share my moment on the Great Wall, in Tiananmen Square and in the crowded streets of Beijing. It made me realize how lucky I am to have had all the experiences I have had in this lifetime.

Later, I entered my hotel and was greeted by another weathered night warrior. This time it was Terrence or Terry, as he liked to be called, craning like a stork over his computer, not really looking up to greet me, but sustaining that gaze on the blue screen. I thought it odd at first. He was a diminutive character, clothed in a khaki vest and pants, cresting 4'10" at best. "You're one of two people," he said.

The words shocked me...they spilled out with such familiarity. "I guess I'm not the rotten egg," I said.

He straightened. His jet black eyes met mine. "I should say not. You are a vision of the night."

What could I do but laugh. This one was a character, one you don't see every day.

"I've been doing this job for 32 years, and I haven't lost a guest yet," he said. "In fact, 32 years and I haven't missed a day until one day last week. I love my job." He handed me my plastic key, and walked me to the elevator.

Thirty-two years. The exact number of years I'd spent in the classroom. But, he had me in the age category. I'd loved every one of my 32 years too.

"I'm 77 years old and I love my job," he said. I looked at him, and despite the thinning of hair, stiffness of frame and a few wrinkles on that face...I thought to myself, he could be that young boy who probably started as a bell hop or desk man at one of the Hilton operations somewhere in the states. The work was clearly keeping him young...the connection to people, the opportunity to flirt with a female arriving late in the night, and the chance to hold the keys to a 500 room mansion that houses Americans on the go.

The next morning, I spotted him talking to the security guard as I carried my breakfast plate to a table nearby. "You've been awake all night?" I asked.

"You're darn right," he said. "Been doing it for 32 years."

"Well, you look darn good," I replied.

"And you, my dear, are the paragon of sartorial splendor!" He stood straight in his khaki vest and pants and bent at the waist at me. For the first time in my adult life I had no reply to this. I knew what he meant, I thought...but of course, I'd have to go home and look it up to be sure! :)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Writing through the Mud

Anybody who knows me, knows I'm obsessed with my beautiful four-legged beast. He--Reilly, is named after my mentor, Patricia Reilly Giff. Reilly is, at times, my one and only empty nester's high maintenance kid. 

But Reilly is so much more than that to the writer in me. Yes, I do have to work around his needs. He gets his food in the AM before I get my coffee. He goes out, and then rushes back in for a cookie (his vitamin), settling into my lap for a snuggle after that. But once I push him off my lap? He knows the routine. I write and write, grab a second cup of coffee and write some more. I'm serious about the words I put on the page. 

But lately, I've been looking more closely at him. I, of course, always have a dog in my stories. Life just wouldn't be the same. I study that face of his, so serious at times, with that furrowed brow and those eyes lazored on me. He even has a pout that works to his greatest advantage if he thinks I've stayed with the writing too long. He rests his head in between his paws and stares me down, longing, wishing, pleading, and sometimes whimpering for his walk at the farm. 

I tell myself--a writer has to ignore outside distractions. I take a long sip on my cold coffee, and get back to my work. But then, as always, the mud comes. It does. I run out of steam...or a question comes up that I don't have the answer to yet. This morning, I started I on a path, is there a path at all, or is this quick sand I'm sinking deeper and deeper into? 

Writing is like driving a car without your hands on the wheel. The car has a mind of its own, and the mud is all around. It's been a while since I've written anything outside my middle grade fiction work. I've tried hard not to stare at twitter and Facebook and blogging has been set aside for the somewhat not-so serious, serious stuff. But today, I got to thinking...I was reading a Cynthia Rylant short story, Spaghetti with the kids at school. And I could not help noticing all the little paths in this piece...the things one might think at first sight were headed into the mud. But then she lifts you up and reveals them to be the little jewels along the path to great story. 

Oh, I so wish I could be her!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

October Baseball! Fingers Crossed--Let's Go METS!

Let's Go Mets!

Okay, I'm a sucker for a good baseball game. I admit it. If I weren't, there'd be no way I could've lasted this long. I watch my team, your team, and anybody else's team to see a good put-out, a great pitch, or a grand slam. I have been watching baseball since I was literally able to climb up on my dad's knee.

My dad...was a Red Sox fan. Having sailed here from Ireland, who else would he choose? Boston, to his thinking, was an all Irish town. I can only imagine what he'd have thought of the green caps those Sox fans wear on their heads now!

For the better part of 25 years, I've hung my gallery of caps and then my Mets banner too, on the wall in my classroom, just behind the American flag. And I'd tell parents right at Open House that of course I was working on a subtle form of brain washing. Why not? Without a series win since 1986, we could use all the fans we could get. So everyday, my kids would pledge allegiance to the flag of the US and to the banner of the NY Mets.

I bribed them with threats to cheer for my team, and there'd be no homework over and over again. And I did pay-off, but seriously? There were some very lean years!

And then came along all the trickster parents, like the one who fed his son a half-gallon of ice-cream spoon by spoon while practicing his April Fool's exclamation, "Mrs. Lynch--guess what?! I'm a Mets fan now!" Yup, I fell for it. And that kid to this day remains a Yankee fan.

Even my own kids have been duped by my husband and swallowed the Yankee pill.

But today, my niece Caroline who is infamous over at Tech Insider tweeted me about a fellow teacher/Mets fan, Mr. Lazarus Apparently, Mr. L's third graders, Queens natives, are writing letters to convince the Mets to win! Well, that Mr. Lazarus is no dummy! First of all, he's playing to the right market. Up here in Newtown, we're on the Yankee/Red Sox line.

Second of all, for those of you who care, he's firing them up to write to one of his third grade standards, so this is no idle child's play here! So maybe, just maybe, Mr. Lazarus, I've been the jinx all along! Here's hoping the torch can be passed, and now it's up to you!

C'MON, gotta get fired up when you read a letter like that!

And tonight, even though I always keep a bit of cool caution in my hopes pool--I'm feeling pretty optimistic right now. I've come a long way since I got struck by that Grande Orange bug! And honestly, the convincing came from my best friend's dad--Mr. George Ripley! It didn't take much, just a little evening baseball after he got home, a bit of explaining about the game...and then, in '69 the Mets themselves sealed the deal!

Let's hope we're back there once again!


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

My Little Place in the Woods

I never imagined life could be so good...a little cottage, a pine forest, my laptop and a golden puppy resting under my feet. After so many seasons of early wake-ups, cramming close to the screen with that hot cup of coffee to jump-start my day, I am, at long last, somewhat retired from the day to day schedule at school.

My mornings consist not of an alarm, but the persistent poking of a black puppy nose attached to a mass of golden fur. I no longer have to choose an outfit, shorts and a tank top will do. But the coffee?
Oh...that will never change!

Today, I spent three hours revising seven pages in my book. I angsted over a new chapter I know I have to stitch in somehow between two others I've recently revised too. When I reached the point of frustration, I went out and raked and weeded and clipped. And then I went back to the cottage and got it right this time, I think.

To round out my day, I took my pup out for a long walk in the woods, and then walked along a well-traveled path and had a few long conversations with all the regular dog walkers I knew. But then, as the trail weaved its way around the bend...I passed my old school. Do I miss it? You bet. I miss the people, the kids, and of course all the opportunities to challenge myself and the kids, creating each and every day from scratch. opportunities to be a part but not immersed in the field of education abound. I'll be back. But now, in my own way, on my own time, because after all these years of waking up, it's my time to have a little choice! What an incredible reward!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Riding on a Cloud

Riding on a Cloud--

I walk and watch a golden tail,
poised upward,
catching the wind.

He walks,
and I am  tethered
to the other end of the leash.

It is me
who follows
and not leads.

And for once
in my life,
I'm grateful for that.

Now, after years and years
of lines
and order
and organizational structure.

After being the follower
and the leader,
marked by a rigorous
daily schedule, a regimen
and routine--

I can relax.

I am not the schedule
nor am I the schedule

Sure, I hold
a calendar
with dates
and work
still to be done.

But I am, now
the cloud rider
I ebb and flow
in the wind.

I lean in and lend a hand,
pull back
and escape...

to my cottage,
my writing,
my dream, left for years...

Now is my time, my world,
my chance
to sail on a cloud,
to be light
and uplifted
by the wind!