Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Dogs. Teaching. Corona Virus and Me.

People are restless. The signs of restlessness are there all over the place. I get it. I'm a teacher. I've studied kids, watching for that turning away, loss of focus, that inability to hold on to what I was teaching in that moment. There's an art to keeping kids motivated and inspired enough to hold tight. I too have had a hard time holding on in times when I've felt that the control was not mine. In teaching,  I always had to know what the measurement of my students' true capability could be. 
I loved studying their patterns and their complexities, their abilities and inabilities.

I am, like them, very human. I have a hard time holding still. So, to ask me to sit, shelter and stay in place for any length of time, like this, seemed near impossible. What? No shopping, no restaurants? No yoga? In essence, no options? No, in and of itself is a bad word in my mind. Us humans like to control our own destiny. It's the American Way. 

My siblings always called me, "the brat." But I really didn't see myself that way. I was kind and tried to be somewhat giving. But if you asked for the last bite of my ice cream or the last bite of my Milky Way (only siblings, honest), I was not giving that to you. Even that didn't really get to me that much. I could stand my ground and defend myself after all. 

But to be told NO? Well, that was a good reason to declare a Murphy-sized war! We, Irish, do not take no very well. We can be giving as the day is long, but underneath all that, we can be a stubborn and resentful lot. But these days, I see we are not the only ones. So, the lesson I've learned in this time of NO to just about everything I used to the ZEN of just staying put, and enjoying the stillness in the NOW. 

Worries about financial insecurity are rampant. I have my own concerns as well. For those of us who can, even if it means stretching our budget to its very end, making a donation to a local food bank is the way to go. Putting ourselves in the mind of those who have nothing...thinking about what it would be like if my cupboards really were bare and I had no option but to sit in my car on a long line and wait till I was provided for, that gives me pause. I am humbled by all of the people that wait. They are doing what's best for their kids and for themselves.

Gratitude is something to cultivate in this time of ZEN. Waking myself up to the beauty of nature has been the call I've been following. My dog is leading me there. I watch him sniffing around...I know, he's finding his spot! But he also sniffs the flowers just to sniff the flowers. I've never had a dog that did that before! He stops to watch that magnificent blue heron as if it's his own personal tv show!
And because of his alertness when it comes to things of nature, I am also more awake and watching for the little surprises that come my way. Last week, I stood at the pond's edge, just four feet away from a huge blue heron. To my surprise, he didn't flinch a bit. I moved closer and started to see what he was seeing--it was his little tv show. There, in front of me, sailing across the pond, were two geese and their four newborn goslings. And there, sailing toward them, but putting on the brakes and hanging out--were two big popped up eyeballs...seconds later, the full gator appeared. Small miracles, just for me.

I'm sure to many--my musings sound stupid, boring and unuseful in comforting their restlessness right now. But I think the Buddhists and the Spiritualists have it right.  I say, pick up Jon Kabat Zinn's Wherever You Go, There You Are or a little Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart.  Both their words are so human and works like these have fueled me and helped me in dealing with the things that are way out of my reach. Page by page, the wisdom unfolds.

It takes time to cultivate new habits, beliefs and experiences. Our time here is short. So, right now, in this moment, I'm asking myself--What is it that can fill me up, that all the running and shopping and doing used to do for me? A friend once told me that I am a human doing, wouldn't I rather be a human being? To just BE is my job today, like it or not, because being still will save a lot of grief for everybody else!

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Seeing Things as Others See Them

My Daily Supplies

I know these are hard times. Super hard times. But they are also great times too. I'm not trying to be all rose-colored glasses here. But. I've been watching the little kids up the street from my upstairs window where I work. They're inside now, but they'll be out for their daily recess time and I'll be eavesdropping on their giggles, the scrape of their bikes and the their hot wheels. Last night, I was out in the dark and they were too. They'd found a toad with their mom and they were taking turns cradling it in the palms of their small hands. 

I heard the voices of neighbors shouting to each other across yards that never previously spoke to one another that I knew of, anyhow. 

But most of all, I see people walking, almost all singles with masks and some with no masks, waving to each other or chatting on the phone, like me, to people I haven't talked to in years. Reconnecting. Checking in. It's a good thing. 

So why is this being called 'draconian'? If it's draconian, maybe we need to strive for more of it. Busy lives, frenetic striving, pushing, always pushing to the top. Necessary? Well, I'm clearly not in my 30's and 40's anymore, the age I was when I was caught in that web of frenzy. But somehow that was where we lost it. We wanted so much more in material things than our parents could ever know or imagine. My parents never handed me anything. True, they couldn't. They died, both, by the time I was eleven. But. I got caught up in thinking I had to go so much further beyond what I'd had. No hand-me-downs for my kids, vacations every year (no regrets there!), free college, and all the gear that was put out there in the advertising world for us to latch onto. 

Advertising was the phenomena that fed us, the first tv generation. We saw it, wanted it, worked like crazy to gain/achieve all that material success. When I moved from CT, I filled dumpsters again and again with stuff. Acquired stuff. Now, without regret, but understanding, I've moved beyond that stuff.

We have this momentary pause button. It's not draconian, unless I choose to look at it that way. Those who want to use that word, in my opinion, are risky people. Sorry. I'm saying it. They lack perseverance. We Americans have PERSEVERANCE in our DNA. Those, like my dad, who fought on the beach heads were of that incredible generation. But we possess the same DNA. I have that fighting spirit in my DNA. My dad used to say, "You're a Murphy," which was synonymous with tough! We are a tough people, but we're also a kind people. 

It saddens me to think about the least of us on ventilators, the best of us on the front line, the horrors of the families separated by Corona virus. Let's not get derailed by those who want to play this down. 
We all have healthcare professionals in our circles, or family in the hot spots. We are all Murphys. We are all tough!

So today, I'll don my mask and walk my dog. I'm now up to about 7 miles a day. It's gonna be 82 degrees. But. I'm healthy and strong and I have time to pray. I pray for all who are affected by this illness and those who soon will be. There's a zen and a smoothness to my life now. I don't have to pump the adrenaline of materialistic success. I can just be. And that is enough for today.  

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

All that Glitters

Times sure have changed all around me since I've sat myself down to write once again. It's been a long hiatus. My mentor, Patricia Reilly Giff, told me five years ago--when I started my work traveling and presenting to teachers I might very well leave my writing behind. Those words plagued me as I traveled, prepped, over-prepped and presented to teachers. But, I did love the work. I was on the go constantly and looked back only occasionally with chagrin. Had I left a part of myself behind?

The longing was always there. I promised myself when things settled down, I'd jumpstart my writing again. It would be easy, right?

Habits, at least for me, die hard. Writing requires commitment and continuous effort. The brain needs immersion. It needs to answer that longing, the attachment to the thoughts and ideas, the plot and problems and the feelings of the characters that live within the parameters of story. Good writers do all that and more.

So for now, I'm getting back into the saddle. All that glitters and shines? Well, all that stuff...the sparkly objects, have been removed. No flights, no travel plans, no social engagements. I'm here. In the present moment. Dog walks encompass the skeleton of my day. I'm masked and locked down.
Maybe now, I can take the small crawl back to the chair and into the words I've so loved, and so quickly left behind.

In the absence of the glitter, there are the very small sightings that do delight me each day. I no longer have to think big, be busy or assume a role out there in the world. My job, or so I've been told by everyone that loves me, is to stay healthy and therefore out of the hospital. To honor those whose enormous roles are the most important there is for today.

To all the biggest actors out there, the warriors, acting on our behalf, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I'm so ever grateful for the love, the care and all the life breath and energy you are putting into the lives of those who are dangling between this life and the next.

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!