20 March 2009

It Might As Well Be Spring

It was obviously very early and I hadn't gone to bed until 3 but I was awake and curious and energized so I got up and got busy. To the dumpster with that damned air mattress (leaking for about a month now and I can't find the leak)! Out with that beautiful corduroy skirt I'll never wear again (it's happened to me: I stopped smoking and gained weight).... Goodbye funky end table that looks like it belongs in somebody's house but not mine. Chuck the magazines I was saving for collage (good grief! Like I've ever included collage-making in one of my workshops...)

Finally dusting, sweeping, packing up, throwing out.... And smiling all the while and something especially crisp and sweet about the air this morning.

Switched on NPR while waiting for the coffee to drip and learned

Today is the first day of Spring! No wonder I'm nesting like a driven mother bird.

18 March 2009

The Elephant Man Experiment

If you're lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it...*

Over and over and over again. Find the courage.

The fear of speaking too soon or saying too much or offending someone or losing a job or making a mistake or dying alone... There's a hundred possible fears to derail you.

Over and over and over again. Find the courage to live the life you love.

Fear of going to hell. Fear of freedom. Fear of The Unknown. Fear of getting hurt.

Find the courage to live the life you love.

Sometimes I wonder if surviving a tragedy might inspire me to live more courageously. If I were extremely physically disfigured through accident or illness, for example. If I looked like the Elephant Man, would I still fear looking foolish or being rejected or not fitting in?

If I lost my sight or ability to walk, would I still fear getting sick? wasting time? being misunderstood?

If my worst fears were realized, there would be nothing between me and living the life I love. Maybe I would finally find the courage to
live the life I dream.

"Words get in the way," too. I mean, sometimes, making the decision and even following through is not the difficult or terrifying part; it's the explanation and justification and qualification and all the rest of the talking, to friends or family or coworkers or bosses or strangers... Shaving my head, for instance, was never difficult but all the different kinds of conversation that resulted from the choice! I don't want to explain my life; I just want to live it.


It's almost 5 a.m.

The world is dark and quiet. I should try to get some sleep.

I challenge myself: when I wake up, relinquish the fear of being misunderstood or judged or.... Try living without explanation.

*John Irving, again.

15 March 2009


Yesterday morning I found this

...If you’re lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it."
— John Irving in
A Prayer for Owen Meany

And this

And popped them into a blog template intending to muse and comment. But you know how things go: other issues presented and I ran out of time. Places to go and things to do....

Sheesz!! Sure was nice to find those little pieces of inspiration on the computer screen when I got back home. It was one of those days when, bless their hearts, people were behaving badly. Even though I know better, the temptation
was there to get hung up in their behavior and my reaction to their behavior and, I confess, I succumbed.

Between the bank teller who was more intent on teaching me a lesson than providing good customer service and the streetcar driver who sold me a transfer but
couldn't answer a question about the terms and conditions of its use and R________ running around like a nut in class, refusing to take her seat and trying to have a serious conversation with Mr. H________ who kept assuring me "I'm listening" while not looking at me, rearranging furniture, talking to his teaching assistant, cleaning up the band room and NOT listening to me

I was in a pretty bad mood when I started my walk down Louisiana Avenue back home; but the streets were strewn with beads and flowers from the weekend's St. Patty's Day parades. More materials for my Gateway to Second Chances installation! Harvesting forgotten beads improved my mood enough to plant the idea of taking myself out to dinner at Cafe Atchafalaya.

We'll call the bead harvesting plus the slogans plus the ingredients below my "Remedy for a Bad Day":

1 Manhattan on the rocks(request Maker's Mark)

1 over-sized copy of The Adventures of Pinocchio (illustrations by Roberto Innocenti)

1 plate Louisiana oysters, fried

Maybe I should start a list, a remedy/recipe book...

If you haven't read the original Pinocchio, I recommend it. The illustrations are great. I can see why Disney based his animated feature on the story and perhaps that was the original intent of the book when it was translated and published in the 40's but it's pretty scary stuff. Just right, however, for a grownup coming down from a crappy day.

12 March 2009

Fake Teacher

What a day! Fifteen minutes into class today, I never wanted to see these girls again.

Twenty minutes in, I remembered my blog post from this morning and stopped trying to resist or change their behavior. No matter what they did or said, my response was "Well, there you are. That's great."

Twenty-five minutes in, I stopped trying to teach piano.

"What is the sound of funny?" I asked. J_______ insisted she could not do a thing without a bandage for the pin-prick-sized wound on her calf. "OK. I'll go get you one. You guys figure out the sound of 'funny' while I'm gone." I told them they could use voice or keyboards.

The break did me good. I was a much groovier person (at least in my own mind) when I returned to the classroom. R___________ asked, "Miss Alex, can we use keyboard AND voice?" I could have kissed her. "Yes!! I hadn't even thought of that. Sure, use both." T__________ asked if she could use her voice and the keyboard AND her hands. Stunning.

We spent the last half hour finding sounds for "beautiful" and "tired" and "gentle" and "rude". Nobody was off task for the rest of the class period, two students actually said "thank you" on their way out of the room and R_________ asked me to stay after class to hear her play an assigned piece!

I've been doing my best imitation of a teacher for 4 1/2 months. It's over. I'm a resident artist from this point on. This is what I know how to do. This is what I want to get better at. This is what works.

11 March 2009

Champagne Rx

Most people mean well.

I don't know if this is true but it's what I hear. Often. "Life is too hard if you think people are out to get you," They say, as if the only two possible perspectives are one of those two extremes: everybody is out to get me or most people mean well.

I migrate toward the place in the middle: people's intentions are a complete and utter mystery to me--as individuals and certainly as the horde that "most people" implies. We can't see each others' hearts. Your actions are visible but who knows what's in your heart?

But based on my personal experience I am confident that most Americans (I still haven't lived anywhere else) are afraid. [I blogged on Fear in January 2007...Nothing to Fear but Fear.) We're definitely afraid at one time or another and there's strong evidence we're afraid most of the time.

What We Fear

speaking too soon
saying too much
looking foolish
offending someone
being killed
being robbed
being hurt
ruining our chances
losing our way
wasting time
wasting money
passing up an opportunity
getting sick
being alone
dying alone
being poor
being the last to know
making a mistake
being left behind
smelling bad
losing a job
flunking out
being tricked
being humiliated

Counterbalances to Fear

champagne prayer laughter sleep knowledge meditation
hanging out with 2-6 year-old people who haven't been indoctrinated
Mardi Gras music strawberry daiquiri buttermilk pie
satin sheets hugs sunlight

to name a few.

We allowed George Bush to run amuck for 8 years. Did we "mean well"?

"Hard" is finding myself in the middle of a social mess, in which everybody present "means well".

It boggles my brain. A slice of buttermilk pie and a glass of champagne restores me and I remember: "I have no idea about anybody's Intentions. It is what It is."

Neither "Seven Spiritual Laws of Success" nor the little Zen book I just finished mentions champagne or buttermilk pie but both acknowledge the good of learning to "roll with it", whatever it is. To see things, look at them just as they are, accept that, good or bad, whatever it is, it is a part of the Big Story. We don't judge it or ignore it or disguise it.

Just a nod and a glass of champagne and "Well, there that is."

06 March 2009

Friday Grace and Gratitude

a beautiful and tasty blood orange for breakfast
aromatic pot of coffee -- just enough in the coffee box for one pot
windows open
sun shining in a friendly (not brutal) way
waking up with a reason and desire to get out of bed
puffy REI socks that double nicely as slippers
letter from my grandson on the refrigerator
no body pain
a little money in the bank

05 March 2009

Bang Bang I'm Dead

Someone once told me that we never witness our own death in a dream because to do so would signal the death of the psyche. Insanity or death of the body would necessarily follow soon after.

This morning I dreamed I was murdered on St. Charles Ave. I was reading a book and eating a sandwich at an outdoor cafe when two young males (hooded and standing in shadow so I never saw their faces) passed near my table. I greeted them but the taller one didn't like my northern accent. "Be nice, be nice," he said as he reached into his sweatshirt for the gun.

The thought in my head began "Is it really my turn?" but I only managed "Is it really..." before the first round hit me, center of chest, creating a slow wave of heat that quickly saturated my body. The subsequent bullets--he fired three or four times--didn't hurt. They were impact echos.

Alternatively, other dream analysts believe death-of-the-dreamer-by-murder dreams indicate the repression of emotions and instincts that seek vengeance.

This was a hard week at the middle school. On the worst day of the week, the business manager told me they were letting me go. The vibe at the school has been ominous since first of the year and reduction of the music program staff is imminent so I didn't complain. Turns out he misspoke and I still have my job...and, in fact, the last day of the week was fantastic: the girls were communicative and stayed on task the entire period.

But during those hours when I thought the job was over, I reflected on the funky vibe at the school, the disgruntled and/or kissing-ass teachers, the director (or principal or whatever his title is) who loves the sound of his own voice or speaking before a captive audience of students.

The school social worker told me, "You have to be the constant. The kids are always changing--they can't help it." Whoa! If there was ever a clear indicator I'm in the wrong room...

I like teaching--a lot--but the situation at KIPP is riddled with problems and, for my tastes, an uncomfortable amount of constraint on everybody's behavior--staff, teachers and kids. There's a lot I feel and don't show; a lot I think and don't say.


I continue to weave beads into my Gateway to Second Chances. Monday I asked for two more private piano students and three new students will begin study this weekend... Teaching in my own studio is a much better fit.

Starting to feel like my days at KIPP are numbered--one way or another.

04 March 2009

Lessons in Sin

The seven deadly (cardinal) sins are:

lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride

The last weekend of Carnival a small group of us were sitting in a bar trying to remember all seven. Luckily, somebody had an Iphone (or something like it...) and looked it up on the spot. "Lust?!" I cried (probably a bit intoxicated). "Lust is a sin? Why?" Other questions that arose for me:

  • Who chose the seven?
  • What is sloth?
  • What's the difference between gluttony and greed?
  • Are there seven specific punishments attached to these sins?
  • Is there another list of non-deadly sins?

With Mardi Gras behind me, the space opens to look into this question. Wikipedia breaks it down this way: lust as defined by Dante is "excessive love of others," i.e., not loving God most of all. In other corridors it is understood as "excessive sexual thoughts and desires" where excessive means a level that gives over to addiction or criminal behavior.

Most of the sources I consulted attribute creation of the list to the Catholic Church. Wouldn't you know it? Those Catholics and their lists. At 14, I almost converted to Catholicism. More than any religion familiar to me at the time, Catholicism offered an orderliness and drama that I found irresistible. My best friend at the time was a Catholic and attending Mass with her left me weak and trembling: all that perfume and colored brocade and chanting...

I had a similar reaction after seeing "The Godfather." The Family's
unflinching adherence to code and their passion really grabbed me. Hum, come to think of it: they were Catholic, too, weren't they?

There's also something rebellious about the Catholics. I was raised Baptist where there was (apparently) a Biblical precedent or reference for everything we sang, said or sipped. By contrast, the Catholics made up all kinds of stuff on their own.

They chose which vices to include in the list. I never even heard about 7 Deadly Sins until after I left the Baptists. The list doesn't show up in the Bible anywhere. For Baptists, sin is sin and none is worse than any other for all intents and purposes. Wikipedia's entry on the 7 deadly sins includes a section entitled "Biblical References".

Proverbs 6:16-19
  • (17) A proud look,
  • a lying tongue,
  • and hands that shed innocent blood,
  • (18) A heart that deviseth wicked imaginations,
  • feet that be swift in running to mischief,
  • (19) A false witness that speaketh lies,
  • and he that soweth discord among brethren.
I guess once a Baptist always a Baptist: this list makes more sense to me and even standing as far as I do from all churchiness, I could honor this list of seven.

Sloth. No surprise that this sin should especially grab my attention. Again, from Wikipedia:

...it was first called the sin of sadness or despair. It had been in the early years of Christianity characterized by what modern writers would now describe as melancholy: apathy, depression, and joylessness — the last being viewed as ... refusal to enjoy the goodness of God and the world God created. ...Sadness (tristitia in Latin) described a feeling of dissatisfaction or discontent, which caused unhappiness with one's current situation. ... Dante [described] sloth as ... "failure to love God with all one's heart, all one's mind and all one's soul." [italics are mine]... In his "Purgatorio", the slothful penitents were made to run continuously at top speed.

The modern view of the vice, ... is that it represents the failure to utilize one's talents and gifts. For example, a student who does not work beyond what is required (and thus fails to achieve his or her full potential) could be labeled slothful.

Current interpretations ... portray sloth as being more simply a sin of laziness or indifference, of an unwillingness to act, an unwillingness to care (rather than a failure to love God and his works). For this reason sloth is now often seen as being considerably less serious than the other sins, ...

The sloth, a South American mammal, was named after this sin by Roman Catholic explorers.

I don't deny it: I am slothful. However you define it, "slothful" has been an accurate description of my behavior and attitude. Melancholy, depressed, failing to reach potential.... The punishment for this sin is hilarious irony since I have assiduously avoided being busy or moving fast most of my life. Noteworthy that the two sins that grabbed my attention--lust and sloth--are in fact related. Lust is loving others more than God; sloth is not loving God enough. This places a whole new light on my decision to pursue a career in the ministry, my focus on the intersections and similarities between sex and religion while in the program, AND my subsequent dropping out....

Final note: check out this little bit of info on the mammal of the same name:

Sloths move only when necessary and even then very slowly: they have about a quarter as much muscle tissue as other animals of similar weight. They can move at a marginally higher speed if they are in immediate danger from a predator ... but they burn large amounts of energy doing so. Their specialized hands and feet have long, curved claws to allow them to hang upside-down from branches without effort[8]. While they sometimes sit on top of branches, they usually eat, sleep, and even give birth hanging from limbs. They sometimes remain hanging from branches after death. ...

So now sloth joins turtle as one of my animal totems.