Thursday, October 4, 2012

They will remember...

"People might not remember exactly what you said or what you did, but they will always remember how you made them feel."

Today, I'm just dwelling on this thought.  Dwelling on the thought that our words and even our actions can be so futile sometimes.  On the thought that we leave an emotional imprint on the people in our lives--and for better or worse, that emotional imprint is not likely to be changed by any subsequent words or actions.  On the thought that they leave those imprints on us too--and for better or worse, our  emotions might not be easily changed by their words or actions either.

As a teacher and coach, this is reminds me to carefully cultivate my classroom's atmosphere: How can I help my students to feel safe, seen, and valued? How can I help them to find feelings of inspiration, confidence, and motivation?

As a friend, sister, wife, and daughter, this reminds me to sincerely consider the way that my emotions impact my relationships: Have I filled their lives with feelings of love and joy and peace, or just with kind words and deeds intended to fill the void of meaningful, lasting feelings?

As a person easily influenced by my own emotions, this reminds me to step outside of my feelings to find a clearer view of my surroundings: Why is it that people's negative words leave such a strong imprint on me while their positive words so often fade away? And how can I convince my heart to take hold of what my head knows to be true even when my emotions are telling me otherwise?

I have no answers today.  Not even theories or suspicions of answers. I'm just wandering through these ideas, hoping that along the way I'll find something to help my heart understand what my head still can't quite comprehend.

Monday, August 27, 2012

When you just can't find the words

It might seem improbable that an English teacher would ever be at a loss for words.  But it happens more often than you might think.  When I'm so proud of my kiddos that I find myself repeating the same compliment over and over.  When I'm so nervous about an unpredictable event that I just speak in broken phrases with no apparent syntactical connection.  And when I'm so brokenhearted that I just don't know how to begin.

Since my spoken words are failing me right now, I'll try to write.  Sadly, I don't turn to prayer or scripture as easily as I should in these moments of silence.  Most often, I just sort of swim in my own thoughts for a while--pondering the "he said...she said...what if...then that..." possibilities a dozen more times.  But even in stunned silence, I still trust that I can find an opportunity to grow, so I am trying to turn to prayer more wholeheartedly tonight.  And ironically, I find that even my prayers are sort of lacking words right now.  All I can come up with is this:
Galatians 5:22

I guess this is a pretty good list to be stuck on.  I'll pray that I handle this situation with love, and that others will too, and that people might benefit from an environment that treats everyone in a better way.  I'll pray that the result of this situation will lead to joy for everyone involved, not just convenience or a temporary solution, but a chance to actually pursue joy.  I'll pray that I find peace in the midst of the turmoil, and that any decisions result in peace for everyone involved.  And I think that's as far as I will go for now.  I shouldn't rush through these; love, joy, and peace are powerful words to dwell on.  Just one more way that I can see--at least a little--encouragement in "the silence between the notes."

Monday, August 13, 2012

For the win!

Have you heard the saying, "like a fish out of water"? It could easily be re-cast as "like a teacher out of his classroom." Even the most confident teacher seems to wither a bit when faced with speaking or performing in front of other professionals rather than their students.

So it would't have surprised me at all if the teachers at the Arts Impact summer institutes were awkward, uncomfortable, or rebellious.  But they weren't!  In all three institutes, I was not only impressed by the perseverance and open-mindedness of these teachers, I was encouraged.

It can be hard enough to adapt to new ways of teaching, then to expose your own vulnerability by participating in dance, theatre, and visual arts, and finally to create a group performance piece with a dozen other teachers that you hardly know?  This seems like an impossible challenge.  Yet time after time, I saw skilled and dedicated teachers rise to that challenge.  Mind you, before these institutes, many  were trained only in teaching, not in the their collective creations and performances are even more impressive to me!  This not only goes to show how much they have learned through their arts exploration at our summer institutes, but it also shows that we have teachers out there raising the bar and doing everything they can to bless their students with the best education possible.

In the first two pieces, teachers chose a painting (projected onto the back of the stage) and interpreted its motifs, moods, and meanings through dance.  Last year, we danced to an oil on canvas: "Puget Sound on the Pacific Coast" by Albert Bierstadt in 1870.  I revisited this painting last week and was still overwhelmed with the emotion of the piece, and I am infinitely grateful for the chance to have danced our collective interpretation of such an amazing piece. This year, the dancers interpreted a Spinifex Men's Collaborative from Western Australia in 2003: a synthetic polymer on canvas called “Wati Kutjarra (Two Men Story)”. I was not a member of this year's dance group, so I found it exciting to look for connections in the projected painting as I watched the dance unfold.  I definitely recommend that curious viewers out there look up the story behind these paintings and see if you can find any more connections for yourselves!

In the next two videos, teachers sat down as writers first and created individual scripts to a given topic.  After the individual free-writing process, teachers shared their ideas, looked for points of connection, edited and refined their ideas, developed their own characters, and rehearsed their stories in a classroom before a quick run-through with lighting on the performance stage.  As an audience to last year's theatre piece, I seem to remember the title being referenced as "Anything." As a participant in this year's untitled theatre piece, I would suggest the title of "It's only math..." Our group process focused on the satire, solution, and eventual optimism of teaching math through theatre and through our new Common Core Standards.  But I think that's enough of an introduction to help our audience understand our purpose.  
I feel so privileged to have worked through the creative process with these Seattle-area teachers!  And rest assured, our Spokane-area teachers were equally as inspiring.  But I chose to only record and post videos of the institute where I was a participant, not a leader. I would be happy to post a link to a Spokane video if one of the participants has already published it though.  My sincerest thanks go out to all the teachers and leaders in all three of these institutes.  I'm sure their students will also have many thanks for the risk-taking, forward-thinking teaching artists who are leading the way into their 21st Century classrooms!

Eye of the beholder

After a week of studying arts-in-education with dozens of educators who share my excitement for the arts, my return to reality has already been bit disappointing.  During our 5-day Arts Impact summer institute, I heard story after story about the power of the arts; I saw clips of students describing the confidence, creativity, and collaboration skills they gained through various exploration in the arts; and I began to forget that many people in our society still do not consider the arts a viable school subject...or career...or hobby.

Heartbreaking.  So far, that word is all that I can say in response to the doubt and negativity I have already experienced when discussing my amazing week with friends and colleagues.  I have tried twice to write out my thoughts, but so far nothing else has been able to elaborate on my feelings effectively.  Just "heartbreaking." As my eyes well up with inspired tears for the reality I find portrayed in a painting, dance, or song, my loved ones look for grammatical errors or for examples of graffiti to show that these pieces aren't really so impressive.  I listen as people I respect tear down the artistic process of respected creators, arrogantly claiming, "Well even I could have done that" or "I can take better pictures with my smartphone."  People today will pay hundreds of dollars for a pair of jeans, or a fancy meal, or tickets to a football game, but we can't take 5 minutes of our time to consider the way our world looks or sounds or feels--to artists?--to ourselves?  And people certainly don't seem to think that artists deserve to be paid for what they do!  After all, they're only writing words, or splashing paint, or waving their arms around on stage. And "even I could do that." Therein lies another problem for me: why do people so quickly judge art by its product?

Sometimes I feel as if art is less about its product and more about the process, it's about what you experience or discover or give of yourself along the way.  Maybe that's where the teacher in me diverges from the artist in me? I think that judging an artist or a work of art only by its product is misleading and ill-informed. And I think that's precisely why our society has learned to devalue art: because they don't realize all that there is to gain IN ADDITION to the product itself.  They evaluate it according to its difficulty, its potential for gross income, its ability to win contests, or its likelihood of leading to fame. However, those lenses rarely lead to a happy life--in any career field!  Yet they hold art to standards which they willingly overlook for the careers or areas of life that appeal to them more.

My recent reflections have led me to three likely causes for such widespread criticism of the arts, and of course, they have also led me to consider my own opinion on the issues.
1. I believe that any industry can be gifted with geniuses and can be plagued by frauds, and I believe most industries are full of people who never "make it big" but who continue to love what they do, and continue to grow in their abilities while earning a respectable living. Unfortunately, many people question the viability of a career in the arts, as if a life in the arts is somehow wildly different from other careers.
2. I believe few other aspects of life can be experienced by all people in such a variety of ways, and I believe that few other subjects can inspire critical thinking and self-confidence the way that the arts can. Unfortunately, many people assume that since some artistic pieces look simply made, of course that must mean art as a whole must not require much thought, talent, or skill.
3. I believe that the arts can provide opportunity for people to work together to create something bigger than themselves, opportunity for people in our sometimes too-independent society to step outside of our comfort zone and work together as if we were a team or a family.  Most unfortunately, teams and families don't seem to earn much admiration in today's news; the rebel, the diva, the solo artist make for better magazine covers, and so even the collaborative benefits of the arts are too often overlooked.

The idealist in me would hope to enlighten these doubters to see more value in the creative arts, but the realist..maybe the nearly defeated me might just settle for this consolation: The people who can't afford 5 minutes to ponder a professionally created piece of art surely won't take the time to read the words of my silly little blog, but maybe my words can still encourage other art advocates who are fighting against similar obstacles.  If enough of us perservere in our goal to spread appreciation for the arts in our world, perhaps we can bring about change in our collective society.  Maybe one day, artists will write, paint, dance, or sing about the transformation of the arts in our world.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

At least it's a good problem...

The problem is...that I love many things in life.  And most of the things I love require time, practice, dedication, and commitment in order to improve or to benefit others.  So it doesn't feel like I have enough time to do them all as well as I'd like.  At least, not all at the same time.  I find myself focusing on 2 or 3--OK, I find myself sacrificing sleep, exercise, and family time so that I can focus on 4 or 5 at a time--but it still seems like there's never enough time to be truly accomplished in anything I'm attempting.

This little blog is a great example:  I never intended to blog weekly but it's been 7 months since I "published" anything and that is MUCH longer than I'd expected to wait!  Truth be told, I drafted two pieces this spring but never published them because I just didn't have time to refine them. And, of course, I want them to be acceptable to the two or three people who are likely to see them!

So I decided to share my wish list, my list of long-neglected favorites.  One day in my future, I hope to find a life that allows me to explore all of these!  Perhaps if I can combine enough of them into a single career, then I will have time for enjoying the rest as recreation. (Ah, recreation.  It sounds like a lovely idea.)

If there were only more hours in a day, I'd find more time for: 
-dancing--simply because I love it
-choreographing--because it's the most practical way to teach others to love dance too
-teaching--especially teaching future teachers.  Teaching other teachers is the best way to improve my practice too!
-designing lessons--such an exciting way to blend creativity and intellect!
-exercising--I know, it sounds sort of crazy.  But it's invigorating to me!
-philosophizing--about all parts of life, love, and learning. 
-laughing--the kind of laughing that makes your face hurt!
-quoting TV shows--I'm horrible at movie quotes, but I think that's because I'm horrible at watching movies!
-analyzing comedic techniques in my TV shows--maybe it defeats the purpose of watching TV but I enjoy it.  
-reading poetry--I love that you can spend 5 minutes just appreciating it, or 5 hours diving into its depths.
-listening to music--and sometimes singing along
-decorating my house--and sometimes cleaning it! I just feel better when it looks better.
-art--any type of art, anything that shows passion and skill, and anything that provokes thought.
-studying--especially about education, philosophy, literature, and art!
-infusing--everything in life is better when combined with other parts of life: literature, arts, sciences, exercises, everything.
-traveling--Nothing helps me understand my culture or appreciate this great big world as well as traveling does!
-experimenting--but not with actual science--with life applications like food, or clothes, or furniture arrangements!
-searching--probably the nerdy part of me again, but there is so much to learn! Who knows what I'll learn today!
-planning--events, parties, even weekly schedules. There's just something fulfilling about making things happen.
-sleeping--I'm apparently terrible at it since that's what I laid back to do right now, but I enjoy the idea. I miss sleep.
-stretching--not just for dance rehearsal. I can't get through a night of grading without a proper stretch break...or three.
-chocolate--Yes, it's cliché but especially since I feel so limited by gluten these days, I gravitate toward my GF chocolate!
-GF websites--I can't imagine how people ate gluten-free without them.  I owe you all a big THANKS!
-irony--in all forms.  Life and literature are all about contrast, and irony helps me appreciate both so much more.
-connecting with nature--It's the only thing that seems to pull me away from my focus on school and stress.
-relaxing with my kittens--There! I said it.  I can't believe I have cats now, but they are my next-best stress-reducer. 
-motivational quotes--One day maybe I'll say something quote-worthy; until then, I'll gain inspiration from the pros.
-my "The iPhone 4"--iPod, calendar, e-mail, camera, roadmap, weather app! How did I survive without these at my fingertips? 
-journaling--I have never been really comfortable sharing my devotionals with others so this is as close as I usually get.
-reading professional literature--I read plenty of classroom paragraphs and papers, but not nearly enough published material. It's sort of sad to think about the imbalance of my reading repertoire during the school year. 
-And of course, writing, or at least blogging--Again, it's ironic that my efforts to teach reading and writing are what seem to keep me from reading and writing for myself.  One day maybe I'll get to read AND write just for fun!

Maybe everyone has a list like this.  Maybe everyone dreams of a time when they can enjoy their passions more whole-heartedly.  But for now, I will mix and match as many as I can in as many ways as I can. Too many things to love? I guess it's a good problem after all.

Friday, January 13, 2012

In other days

In other days, it was a softer fall.
Rustling, slipping, drifting
From branch to earth.
It was a peaceful fall,
A gentle death.
Comforted by the soil
Which had nourished them
Through roots and branches.

But now?
Do they know?
Do they see what some will meet?
The hard-formed ground that was not made for them.
The grey. The black. The white.
The dirt which cannot nourish
Or cradle them as they fade.
Do they feel what this day brings?
Do they long for other days?

Sunday, January 1, 2012

What I Learned from My Burglars

The day after my last blog, I came home to the tail end of a burglary. I've thought about blogging once or twice since then but the only topic I could really focus on was the irony of being robbed 24 hours after writing about being so sensitive. As I sit here on New Years day, I'm realizing that I have learned a lot from these burglars.
  • A housefull of policemen might feel like CSI, but it's not as much fun when it's real.
  • After a burglary, you become supremely aware of everyone who drives too slowly past your house.
  • Guilt is a surprising emotion.  Somehow I still feel guilty for "losing" some of my special jewelry.
  • Thieves take more than your possessions; they can also take your security and ability to sleep at night.
  • Even if you think a room wasn't entered, search it anyway. They probably entered it just long enough to find your video camera and social security card.
  • My sketching skills are not good at all! And I cannot remember how to draw all the jewelry that was stolen.
  • Take pictures of your home before anything like this happens! The after photos aren't nearly as helpful.
  • I'm grateful for the policemen who want to help despite their limited time and resources!
  • My students are NOT prime suspects, much to the surprise of several friends.
  • In fact, my students saved my spirits in the following weeks. I was moved by their generosity: flowers, balloons, cookies, small gifts, even a bat for protection!
  • Spokane pawn shops are interesting! Some are classy and professional. Others are scary and mighty suspicious.
  • After a burglary, you might realize new damages and missing items almost daily...for at least a month.
  • Looking for your stolen items at antique stores and pawn shops will eat up as many days as you let it!
  • Dealing with identity theft is quite possibly more frustrating--certainly more on-going--than the physical theft.
  • Attempting to sleep on the "safer" side of the house--on the floor behind the couch--might impact your mental acuity more than you'd expect.
  • The keychain-sized pepper spray is much too big for keychains. (But I will carry it anyway.)
  • When your husband says he'd "eventually" like to buy a gun, he might actually mean "this weekend."
  • My dislike for guns doesn't mean I can't shoot them well! I felt like a true Texan after proving my skill.
  • Home insurance is more valuable than I realized! I just hope I never need to use them again.
  • I can still earn a 4.0 on a final presentation the day after a burglary and a night of no sleep! But chances are that I won't remember anything about it when it's over.
  • I appreciate good news more lately. One week after the burglary, I learned that I am a finalist for the Rachel Royston Permanent Scholarship and it felt like I'd won the lottery.
  • Despite the evil out there, this town still has many wonderful people. I've been blessed and encouraged by many people in surprising ways since November 29. I wish I could find a way to show them how much their kindness means to me.
My mind is still pretty preoccupied with thoughts like these, but I'm a little less afraid each day. And I'm certainly learning a lot about safety, home security, and local police departments as a result. I'm also reminded each day that our memories and our loved ones are more valuable than any possessions. In a funny way, I guess I've actually gained a bit from this burglary!