Flashes of Light: Present Moments

As a teacher, there are always little flashes of light.

Iridescent glimmers after long hours of digging. Dirt under your nails. Grit in your teeth. A rasp in your breath as you are suddenly able to inhale, with clarity in your lungs, a purpose. The scent of rain after a long drought… the kind that lingers in the air and forms steam off asphalt.  That makes wilted plants perk up. It makes the waiting worth it.

The thought of hope made tangible is an addiction worth giving into.

And then there is, of course, the sudden fade to black and dust that I often lose myself in. Blinded by bureaucracy and unrelenting tasks. Suffocated by the lack of positivity. The pile of a to do list that hopelessly grows in the face of the illogical. When you are constantly assessing what you need to do, you begin to wonder if you will ever have time to be yourself again. How can you when your day often stretches beyond the uncomfortable limit of ten hours? The weight of students is often combined with the weight of leaving a personal life behind –writing, riding, gardening, adventuring, loved ones. They tug at each other. But you need both.

That is what I am currently navigating in my first weeks back in the classroom. How can I teach and still be me? Is that not necessary to be a good educator in the first place? Some sort of sense of self that is well-groomed and content. Balanced. This echoes similar thoughts that I had last year.

My students, thus far, have been lovely. And I’ve felt at home as my kids from last year come by to visit. The classrooms are crowded with specialized plans and specific needs for students. The to do list grows. Yet, as a second-year high school teacher, I accept, and expect, these issues now–a stark contrast to my rude awakening last year. I know how to deal with them, and sometimes even embrace them. They are challenges that will allow me to grow. They stimulate my colleague and I towards problem-solving: how can we improve this system? How can we effectively teach the best way possible within the confines of what we are given? Being presented with a problem in which we find passion. Discovering solutions. Working through something. The academic in me relishes this intellectual stimulation.

The balance, though, that’s what I need to figure out still. That is my goal. Balance. Avoid burn out. Teaching should not require a sacrifice of the self; part of me feels like that is why I love teaching: because of who I am. English, and the teaching of it, has fed into all of that. It has granted me the ability to experience so any facets of life. To notice things. To travel. To understand. The concepts of didactic books and words and ideas and emotions have molded me, and I think modeling a respect and knowledge of self in front of our students is so important. I need to find that again.

Yesterday, after almost two weeks of not sitting on a horse, I finally was able to make it out to the stable. But, instead of feeling excitement and peace (my normal emotional pursuits), I was hurried. Catch the horses. Tack. Ride. Clean. Get home and plan. My friend, who owns the stable, noticed my state of mind… and I began to release my hyperbole of complaints to her.

 

Her erudite response released an immediate tension in my shoulders. This is where I was. This is where I should be. The only way I can ever grow or gain anything from a moment is to live fully in it. Happy. Sad. Stressful. It didn’t matter. But I needed to stop thinking of my impending to-do list and focus on what was happening in the now and the people around me. It is more than the cliche of taking one thing at a time. It is simply living.

Funny, how mere words can hold such an effect. Again with the English.

I am aware, now, of how little I can be present in a moment. That is my problem. A crack in skin that needs healing.

My solution: heed her simple advice.

To acknowledge that I have a mountain of things I want and need to do, but that I will always have one to climb, and so does everyone else. That the sun will rise and fall and what needs to get done will get done and that I will still naturally pursue what matters to me. To be there with my friends. My family. My students. Because they give themselves to me and deserve nothing less.

Currently, at the barn, I think about what I need to do when I get home. On Friday nights, I think about what I need to have ready for Monday. When I’m teaching, I think of what I need to have prepped for the next lesson or class or grade. I think of the writing that I didn’t do and the runs that I missed and regret those things.

And that becomes my thought process: things to do… things you regret not doing. Always worried about the future. Always regretting.

Never was I sitting in moments. With my students. On the back of a horse in a beautiful open pasture. In nature. At a movie with my parents. Because if I actually sat in those, I would feel so irrevocably grateful.  Those moments are not just more things to do. They are the moments that make up life.

That is life. Little flashes of light and dirt under your nails and horses chomping on grass.

The climb. Not the summit.

As I sit here now, staring across an open meadow with two horses grazing, embracing the silence after the last part of my wick of my extroversion burned at school, relishing in the cooling wind that smells distinctly of decaying leaves, I realize that the balance and contentment is indeed possible.

It’s as simple, currently, as changing my perspective.

This is where I am. The smell of autumn and horses… and god how I am so completely and utterly in love with this moment. When I am home, I will focus on the planning I need to get done. When I am teaching tomorrow, I will be there with my kids, writing about memories and beginning our memoirs. When I am with friends over the weekend, I will give myself to them fully.

This is my flaw. My challenge. My goal in achieving balance this year. To look at each moment with rapt admiration for everything that moment is giving me.

That, and finishing my teaching certification.

Whatever a present moment carries with it, give yourself to it. Let it inundate you and seep into your pores. That is the only way to live a life.

 

On Brochures and Aging Dreams

It all started with a brochure that my sister’s friend Judy gave me years ago: the Trans-Wales Trail. A horseback riding trek that would make any Tolkien fangirl weak at the knees. Open spaces. Dragon’s land. Riding a noble beast across a country. We discussed our ideas and goals of doing it one summer. Why would we not do it?

Oh right…

I was in high school with little money and poor decision-making skills. In order to not get my hopes up, my incredulous self set the brochure and idea aside, but I was forever unable to escape the dream of riding a horse through a limitless landscape.

Years later, here I am. Writing tid-bits on trains headed to my adventure and present reflections at a table in my sunroom. A strange form of time travel connecting past and present. I didn’t really explain what this adventure was all about in the first place, and it would be a lie to say it was largely born as a journey of self-exploration, (though it certainly became one). It was to fulfill that dream instilled within me by a brochure. To achieve what my imagination had been incessantly clawing at for years.

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Day Three(ish): Tate Modern Ponder

I’m in a mammoth cathedral whose halls dwarf any concept of modern architecture, or some holy space, listening to Gregorian chants and choirs singing: men, women, children. I can see their faces up close with such intimacy and detail–the large pouched cheeks of an Italian man, his throat puffing out like a frog, producing the deep tones of an alto. A small child, harmonizing perfectly with him. It is a place, regardless of religious background, that one is in awe. One can forgive the problems and corruption of organized religion and find the goodness and purpose in faith or spirituality.

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Day Zero: Timber to an Open Flame

Airplanes are amazing; humans can fly while watching movies and accessing Wi-Fi. Emphasis on the flying part, because we are literally defying the limitations of our own biology by doing that. How freaking cool. These are my ever-so-eloquent thoughts as I sit staring out the window, watching the other planes dance a spiral in the approach to Heathrow; I’ve grown up in a family associated with planes and the airlines, and regardless of how much I fly, I am still very much in awe of these flying machines. The moments at dusk when you cannot tell which direction the sky is in. The descent through layers of clouds. The curve of the earth.

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New Growth (New House)

Just weeks after moving into a house for the first time, we had to take down a massive Sweet Gum tree that stoically stood in our front yard. It’s large branches stretched across the front of the house, providing shade and privacy. While previously, my sense of appreciation for the forest was tied beauty and ecosystem support, it was now tied to utility: cooling the house in the summer heat, shading the office, creating a sense of seclusion from the streets.

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First Years and Appreciation: We Are Not Falling Apart

‘The Learning process is something you can incite, literally, incite, like a riot.’ This is what happened that year. We read and talked and disagreed, and the world, so very much world, began to shake inside us as we found our humanity in all this inhumanity, found empathy and compassion, found moral compasses, as we learned to hold history accountable, to hold the newspaper headlines accountable, to hold each other accountable. And all this in English class, not at home, not at church or temple or mosque, but from reading novels with Ms. W. In one year, she turned us into thinkers. I began to understand reading and writing as a revolution, thinking as being a profoundly active verb. I began to understand that a person writing quietly in a room might be burning down the world. And then rebuilding it, word by word, into something magnificent.” -Audre Lorde

It’s a damp, muggy, beautiful July morning in Charleston. I am doing yoga beneath the ancient oak tree that sits by my apartment. From my twisted angle, the sun flickers a honeyed-yellow light between the pieces of Spanish moss. I inhale slowly and close my eyes, forgetting the last of the moving boxes I have to pack. Imagining myself at the front of a high school classroom–finally achieving my purpose: making a difference. I love my college kids, and I am still so passionate about teaching them, but the mentality of the ivory tower drained my idealism within my teaching philosophy. Continue reading