29 June 2015

Thank You....and I'm Sorry

For many years I have acknowledged without reserve two gifts from my mother:  teaching me to type and footing the bill for me to study piano from grade school through high school.  Each skill complemented the other, generously supporting acquisition and mastery. And, because of that, I developed exceptional eye-hand coordination, becoming a demon-fast typist and an accomplished pianist in the process. Both skills have at various times put food on the table and a roof over my head.

Two new insights today.

I didn't need to go to college. The staggering student loan debt I took on, that I will never have means to repay, was an unnecessary move. I have, to date, never had a job that required either of my college degrees.

Granted, my experiences in college led to adventures and being introduced to ideas I might not have encountered otherwise. I say, might not.

And the years I spent in classrooms also delayed commencement of the series of mind-numbing jobs I held after college. College was, hands down, a heck of a lot more fun than any job I've ever had working for someone else. It was a very expensive Good Time.

But the whole "go to college so you can get a good job" thing never panned out for me.

The second insight comes as I juggle my teaching schedule to accommodate the goings and comings of my students. Their lives encroach upon and collide with their music studies. This did not happen for me. My mother insisted, with very little resistance from me, that my piano lessons were a priority. Everything else came second. In the absence of debilitating illness, there were no acceptable reasons for missing a piano lesson. Period.

What drove her? It dawns on me today that she probably nurtured a dream of playing piano herself. A dream deferred -- realized vicariously. I benefited greatly from that situation and continue to benefit.

She frequently assured me, 'You have no talent. No more than anyone else. Anyone can play piano." Now I see that her sour-grapes attitude was an expression of a lifelong disappointment that she did not have/make a chance to play piano. In the lean years of my adulthood, when I could not afford to purchase or rent an instrument, she adamantly refused to store the family's piano with me and was staunchly uncooperative in working out a schedule so I could practice at her house.

Such mean-spirited-ness makes sense at last to me. It was a highly emotional issue for her. I didn't get what I wanted. I sacrificed so that you could have what I wanted. It hurts....

17 June 2015

Inadvertent Courage

Things are moving along. Progress is Happening.

One of the boys, D____, started work for hire today with my dear friend and comrade, Ms. Genna. The other boy, S_______, younger of the two, has had some difficulty honoring commitments and following through generally. They both have really; but D____'s challenges have not directly challenged either of the two specific agreements we made that day in the police station.

I requested and they agreed to keep in touch with me. Dates and times were left open. A fluid, organic, getting acquainted. Spending time together. Learning about each other. And, at least as it is turning out for me, also learning about myself.

I requested and they agreed to attend at least the next six sessions of the mentoring group that meets every second Saturday morning at the police station. The Chief mentioned it the day the boys were caught and I thought it sounded like a great idea.

D____ has been loose with regard to the first agreement but he has stayed in touch. Neither of the boys has a cell phone or access to land line. School is out and there is nothing to do in Holly Springs so they float around town. Hanging out. I reach them through somebody else's cell.

Last Saturday was the first mentoring session. D_____ showed and S________ did not.

They were to begin work with Ms. Genna today after ironing out schedule and pay arrangements yesterday afternoon at 2:30. Neither of them was here at 2:45 yesterday so I drove to Ms. Gemma's alone.  

I'd been there less than 15 minutes when D________ arrived. He remembered where she lived from when I took them for pizza and pointed at the house as we drove by. (The attention span of an adolescent boy fluctuates; hard to know whether they heard you...) I was delightfully surprised to see him. We hammered out details and he left, promising to be punctual the next morning.

He was punctual.

Around noon today, as I escorted a piano student to her car, S___________ arrived. "I'm ready to work Miss Alex."

That's great, I said. We need to talk first.

We sat on the front porch and I restated the provisions of our agreement. I asked if he remembered those provisions and he said he did. "Have you honored the agreement?" I asked.

"No," he almost wailed, "but I have an excuse. I overslept. I woke up at 6 and went back to sleep and then I woke up and it was 10."

"Thanks for that. I wondered what happened. Now I know. It's good to hear that you intended to honor the agreement.

"But you didn't honor the agreement. That's my point. And because of that, I don't feel good about approaching Ms. Genna, three hours late, and presenting you as a person I trust to do the work she has available. Can you understand that?"

He could but he was furious. Outraged that D______ was on the job today, MAKING MONEY -- and he was not. "It's not fair!! I'm the one who mowed your lawn that time!"

"Yes. I thanked and praised you for that when it happened.

"Defaulting on our agreement is what's happening now and I have no praise. I'm disappointed.


"if you can help me see you as work-ready and trustworthy, I will be happy to ask Ms. Genna if she's still interested in hiring you. Maybe she'll let you start work next week. Between now and then, your unpaid job and mission is to become a work-ready, dependable young man in Miss Alex' eyes. Can you do that?"

I told him that I care deeply about him and see this situation as an opportunity to facilitate a lesson about life in the "real world", the "adult world" (he is newly 16). A place where employees who oversleep, completely skip coming in that day, or calling in that day...then show up four days later saying they are ready to work are rarely allowed to keep that job. Second chances do happen in the Adult World but they're not guaranteed and the employment arena can be an especially unforgiving setting in the current job market.


He cooled down eventually and his complaints dwindled. We spent most of the afternoon together. Trying and failing to get the lawn mower working. Borrowing another only to have it also break down. Which required a trip to the repair shop.

His anger flared with each malfunctioning lawn mower and he would toss in a line like ...."I wouldn't even be bothering with this if I was at Ms. Gemma's working...."

"Yeah, you right," I admitted and moved the conversation back to whatever we were doing. I think he learned a lot this afternoon. At the repair shop, I asked if we could watch him work, so that S_______ could learn more about mower repair. The repairman agreed and we followed him to the rear of the shop where we entered a very, very male space:  lots of things made of iron lying about on the floor and on workbenches and in cabinets; huge floor fan blowing at hurricane strength and volume. The repairman even spat on the floor several different times, the last time into a puddle of motor oil.

Very different feel from my kitchen. Today was the first time S________ visited my kitchen. "You have little kitchen, Miss Alex," he said and laughed a little. "And clean."


Later I posted a brief report of today's events to Facebook and was again praised in a Comment for
my "courage." It looks brave from someone else's perspective but for me "courage" is about facing danger and feeling fear. I am not afraid and I do not sense danger in my relationships with D_____ and S_____________.

I feel unsure sometimes, like I'm doing things I've never done before. I feel the incline of the learning curve as I climb. It's steep but I am right where I am, with my feet right where they are....and so I'm OK. I don't have all the answers but I'm finding them. 

And finding people. And people are finding me. 

Progress is Happening. 

And it takes Time. Which means patience. I am patient. I am learning patience. 

I would say, "...among other things" but pressed to make a list of "things" I could not. It feels more like I am growing, experiencing simultaneous expansion and shrinking.  The circle of like-minded people and interested people and people in need of something I can offer and people who want to DO something is expanding. So many business cards and scraps of paper with email&phone and texts and Shares....

Simultaneously, my life focus is tightening. And brightening. I can see what I'm doing and I am all about doing what I'm doing. Paying attention.  Full attention.


all drop away, swirling off into the infinite black waters beyond the brilliant brightness of The Present Moment, the tempestuous currents of the Lost Past and the Unknowable Future.

This is a time of lessons in Attention and Patience. It is deeply spiritual work...which sometimes resembles courage.

12 June 2015

Ready for Close Up

The name for this blog was largely inspired by years of research into the life of the 18th century feminist lecturer, spiritual leader and social activist, Sojourner Truth. I admire and respect her personal integrity and spiritual passion. I feel a resonant kinship with her where our life paths trace similar arcs:  name change, social confusion about our genders and being often mistaken for a man, separation from her son, and a lifelong yearning for a place of her own, to name a few.

I was living without lease or keys or fixed address during most of the years of actively researching her life. I was physically relocating on an irregular and unpredictable schedule. Carrying what I needed in a backpack.

Sojourning. In the homes of friends or friends of friends or people I only knew through email. Playing "hello, new space" and "...my last night in this room..." scenes over and over.

I was the constant in those scenes. I like to say I learned a lot about myself and about human nature during those years. The solitude of "wandering" allows much time for reflection, which can benefit spiritual growth; but the impermanence of nomadic living frustrates other potential growth. Most plants have roots. 


Some things -- gardening and community, for instance  -- demand presence. Some evolution of consciousness is only accomplished in relationship. Some understandings about the journey of life are only acquired through intimate, ongoing, physical interactions with other humans.

These are not new ideas to me. For many years I have observed married people or people in other kinds of long-term relationships with an acute awareness that they at least had the potential to grow in ways that I could not. I did not find the situation distressing usually but I wondered "What does that kind of life feel like? How did they create that kind of life for themselves? Will I ever live that way?"

"Sojourn" contains a sense of imminent relocation. There is a farewell soon to come.

The sense of imminent relocation is fading within me. For the first time in 11 years, I am not thinking about where I'll be next.

It's not an "I love Holly Springs! I want to stay here forever," type feeling; but I'm not thinking about the future or yearning to move on.

It is a bit disconcerting. I am not anxious to get the hell out of Holly Springs?! What is happening to me?! I'm melting...........

 I love my house.
I love the things I do each day.
I feel loved and admired by the people around me.

Certainly not by design, but suddenly it is easier and more interesting to stop moving. I am not between sojourns. I am where I am. And there are people here.... And I am learning.