Transit

March 27, 2013

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This week we are in New York for The Place Beyond the Pines premiere!
We took a midday flight from Long Beach to JFK. I had a window seat, Charlotte had her own seat for the first time, and Ben had the aisle.
Charlotte was self-sufficient for most of the flight, so for the first time in years I could peek out at the landscape. I saw these strange circles somewhere over Nevada (I think):

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Snow dusted most of the country, making the mountains and hills and farmland look like steel point etchings. But the most striking sight was descending from the clouds to see a twilight Manhattan, balanced perfectly between darkening streets and indoor lights clicking on.
Charlotte took charge of the window after that, lifting and slamming it shut, then holding her baby up to see.


Charlotte’s Web

March 24, 2013

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Charlotte tells stories now.

She often starts with just one word, and it can take a few tries before I or Ben understand what she is trying to say. This afternoon she was sitting in her high chair eating an early dinner while I made chicken stock. She looked up at me and declared, “Fider.”

“Fider?” I asked, perplexed.

“No, fider,” she replied emphatically.

“Oh….spider!” I said, relieved. “You’re thinking about the spider we found today!” Now that she knew I knew what she was talking about, she launched into her story.

“Fider. Mommy. Make it go ‘way. Inna box. ‘Member?”

She was talking about how earlier in the day, when Ben was out helping me turn up sod in the garden, we had found an enormous, elegant spider in the garage. We use the garage for storage; a nice perk to the dry climate out here. Ben had gone in to investigate a hunch about a missing bike lock key. Inside a forgotten box cleverly labeled “Bike Stuff,” he found the key in question. He also found the spider spinning a web around several spare inner tubes.

I brought the box out to the sunny driveway and put it on the trunk of our car. Ben and I watched the spider, wondering what kind it was. We had been told that black widows lived in the garage, but this spider didn’t look like a black widow. It had a bulbous, milky coffee-colored abdomen and delicately folded legs with knobby joints. After a few moments in the sun it decided to exit the Bike Stuff box, but before it could leap onto the sizzling black metal of our car’s trunk I ran it over to the gap in the fence where the neighbors’ dogs sneak into our yard. As I neared the fence, the spider started to send out a silken rappel line, so when I reached the gap I gave the box a gentle swing, letting the momentum sail the spider into foreign territory.

(I keep meaning to write about sharing a fence with these neighbors, about peeking through the massive wall of debris they have piled against the fence to see their shack that was for many months without a door. Instead, like many experiences we’ve had since moving to Los Angeles seven months ago, vignettes of my encounters with the neighbors have piled up in my mental queue. Now they are whizzing past like the pages of a flip book: the stacks of oversized house trash bowing the chain link fence that separates our yards, the sudden blasts of gangster rap providing a pleasant backdrop for early fall fig picking but driving me out of my outdoor “office” a few months later, the snippets of fights where the word “bitch” gets lobbed back and forth like a venomous ping pong ball, and the day when they had a friend come by to prune their gargantuan Chinese elm tree; a day when we spoke to each other several times through the dusk and the wall of trash.)

After Charlotte’s dinner was finished and the stock had been ladeled into freezer containers, she wanted to go back outside. “Bare peet!” she said when I asked if she wanted to wear shoes or not. I put on my clogs, one of several pairs of shoes I have irrevocably soiled with impulsive garden work, and followed her out. I headed for the backyard but she stopped by the air conditioning fan. “I blow hair!” she said joyfully, bending down to feel the breeze. “It’s nice and warm. It’s nice and cool. You blow hair, Mommy?”

It seems that this storytelling ability sprouted just as she turned two. Indeed, the story of her birthday party was one of the first I remember her telling, preceded in my memory only by her rendition of the time when a rooster attacked her.

The rooster incident took place six weeks before Charlotte turned two. I belong to the Arroyo Seco Time Bank, a network of people who have worked out an economy of reciprocity where an hour of work from one member in their area of skill earns a “Time Dollar” that can be used to purchase an hour of work from another member. There is no hierarchy of labor; an hour is an hour, whether it is dog-walking or acupuncture. I haven’t yet found a way to participate in the time banking, but I’m on the email list (lurking?), so when a member posted that she had blackberry bushes she wanted cleared out, I responded that I would be interested in taking a few off her hands. Ben, Charlotte and I drove up the winding mountain roads into Altadena. The woman with the blackberries, who I will call “Chartreuse” (after all, she lists her profession as “spiritual advisor” on LinkedIn) lived in a scruffy house with pots and seed starters spilling out of doorways. A flock of chickens bobbed around the leaf-strewn backyard. “They’re friendly,” she huffed as she led me, Ben and Charlotte to the blackberry patch.

Ben watched Charlotte while I wrestled with the unexpectedly thorny blackberry vines. After I’d finished uprooting five of them, I went out to the empty lot across the street to shovel some of the zoo manure Chartreuse had had delivered for Time Bank members. Ben and Charlotte stayed behind to watch the chickens. After filling a few bags I saw Ben walking down the drive with Charlotte in his arms, accompanied by Chartreuse. I gathered from the conversation that a rooster had pecked at Charlotte. When Ben came to meet me at the manure pile, he told me that after many disappointing attempts to engage the reputedly friendly chickens, Charlotte had been approached by a hen looking for some attention. Instantly a rooster rushed up and jumped on Charlotte, knocking her flat. The rooster was pecking at Charlotte’s chest when Ben ran over and, in a fit of paternal pique, kicked it off of her.

Later that day, as I was lying down with her before her nap, Charlotte told me her version.

“Chickens….walking. Daddy. Daddy hit!”

Unlike the rooster story, which she told once spontaneously and then told again only when prompted, she is still talking about her birthday party a week after it passed. This is how it normally goes: she is doing something routine like getting tucked in for nap. She hugs her kitty, snuggles under her blanket, then looks up at me, smiling her impish smile.

“Birthday cookies!” she whispers. “Green cookies! Blow out candles.”

Translation: We celebrated her birthday on St. Patrick’s Day, which was her due date. She was born a day later, but this way we got to celebrate with her Grandma Bell who was still in town. Charlotte chose her own birthday treats: from all of the wonderful choices at the Italian bakery on Colorado Boulevard, she chose the horrible sugar cookies sprinkled with green sugar. So it was that on the anniversary of the night two years before, when Ben and our doula waited and slept and watched me move in and out of a morphine haze, an almost-two-year-old Charlotte ate a cookie that was the size of three of her hands and blew out all of her birthday candles, by herself.


Words and Shapes and Numbers and Spiders: A Web of Ideas Loosely Spun

July 17, 2012

Dear Readers,

Hello from Beacon, New York.  I’m working in a café this morning, about 30 minutes south of where we’re staying in Milton. I’m taking a much-needed break from thinking and reading and writing about elementary school math.

I’m creating a math assessment for my school based on the new “Common Core” standards. The way I’ve been working has been to read and reread the standards from Kindergarten to fifth grade, looking for overarching themes, any sort of big, inclusive ideas that could tie the disparate topics together. The way these new standards are written is kind of conducive to that, and kind of not. Inevitably, I find, what happens in these lists of mental feats “all children” are meant to be performing by X years of age is that yet another layer of translation is necessary to go from materials to teacher’s brain to child’s brain and back again. I mean, no matter how you slice it, it’s still a lot of words words words about a discipline that was evolved over many generations by humans interested in developing more efficient ways to solve real problems.

Here’s how any given day of work usually goes: I sit down at my laptop and open the grade level assessment I’m working on (right now it’s fourth) and the pdf with that grade’s standards. I review what I’ve already done and then start making “test items,” or small discrete tasks that ask a child to work with a certain skill or bit of math knowledge, such as apply the area formula to a story about measuring a floor for carpeting.  In the middle of just about every item, Doubt creeps in. Isn’t there some less abstract way to make the idea of “area” clear? How many experiences of covering surfaces with cloth or paper did I need to have before area actually made sense to me? (Answer: a lot. I have ruined a lot of paper and fabric in my life.)

As I sit here and puzzle about this, I’m just baffled why educational standards continue to be conveyed in language alone. With all that we have available now in the realm of media and visual models for complex systems, why this reliance on language? I also feel myself getting subtly brainwashed in this idea of standardization….I can’t really articulate that well, but it’s a horribly oppressive feeling.

 

I’m immensely grateful for the fact that during this last push to finish the math standards-aligned assessments, I’m not in New York City. I’m in the Hudson Valley in upstate New York. So I spend a chunk of time each week immersed in dense language disconnected from imagery, and the rest of the time in lushly green surroundings with woodchucks, chipmunks, rabbits and deer popping out of the brush from time to time. Last night on the porch I saw a huge spider crouching at the center of the most intact spider web I’d ever seen. A gnat flew into the corner of the web and the spider raced over and wrapped it up in silk, then scrambled back to the center. I blew gently on the web to see what would happen and the spider clenched its legs tighter and held on. Then I saw a cricket under one of the porch chairs, right before he boinged away. At dusk the fireflies came out.

The other night there was a magnificent lightning storm. We sat on the porch and watched the flashes of electricity touching down on the Hudson. The booms were everywhere; Charlotte startled at the biggest one, but soon thereafter was laughing and clapping her hands and saying BOOM! 

 

The driveway here is like an enormous blackboard.  Charlotte and I take the sidewalk chalk out there. She makes lines and squiggles and says, “I draw. Chalk. Nudder one.” I take the chalk and draw geometric shapes, working out some of the visual ideas I get while working on dry geometry and number standards. Early in my teaching career I read a chapter of a book about Greek mathematicians, on Pythagorus. I don’t have the chapter anymore. It was about how Greeks saw numbers as having shapes, and how triangular numbers and square numbers were seen as especially magical. The kids and I used beads to test out these ideas and I was astounded, delighted and intrigued by this connection I’d never heard of. Ben saw my drawings and made his own numerical dot drawings, aligning the dots differently, saying, “This is why the Sumerians’ system got unwieldy!”

 

I have to get back to work now.


Hello Again

May 30, 2012

Good morning! It’s 5:26 AM. I was awoken at 4:30 by a bizarre meow coming from the living room. I recognized Louise’s voice but not the type of meow. Was she getting harassed by Top Cat, our temperamental spotted kitty? When I walked through Charlotte’s sleeping area to investigate, she was standing up in her crib, also awake. The cats were hiding and the cause of the strange meow wasn’t apparent.

I nursed Charlotte to help her get back to sleep, then I got back in bed. But I was alert. I realized, hey, why not just get up? This is that Free Time you’ve been wishing for. Go write. I made coffee in the dark, fed the cats. Walked past sleeping Ben, opened the blinds in the living room to see the sun come up. I’m in my little office, one of the things I will miss the most about this place.

I’ve been considering starting this blog back up again as a place to write about leaving New York City, where I’ve lived more or less steadily since November, 1998 (my single year in Germany from 2001-2002 still feels like a dream). In June Ben, Charlotte and I will move from our apartment in Bushwick to Milton in upstate New York, where Ben’s father and stepmother live. We will spend time with family in Philadelphia, in Narragansett, Rhode Island and in Burlington, Vermont, and then, in early September, we will take Charlotte, Louise and Top Cat to Los Angeles. We’ll be living in a house (a house!) in Eagle Rock, a part of Los Angeles with which I am not terribly familiar. Ben will be screenwriting and directing, and I will be with Charlotte a lot of the time, looking for itinerant teaching work some of the time, and finally, finally….doing the writing projects I have been cooking on the back burner for the past year.

This blog has been a place where I come when I am far away from loved ones. We know people in Los Angeles, but we do not have roots there. All of our roots are in the Northeast, a part of America I know will come into greater focus once we are transplanted. In fact it already is coming into clearer focus as I begin to imagine myself elsewhere, in a desert on the opposite edge of the country, in a metropolis organized around entirely different principles than New York City.

By the way, this isn’t going to be the most polished writing, this newest phase of Parasites and Other Adventures. It will mainly be quick entries in early morning hours. It’s embarrassing how fragmented the written thoughts are these days, given the attention I need to pour into being with an active, inquisitive fourteen month-old.

So here are the Thoughts this morning, in more or less listy format.

Finding the Roots As I Pull Them Up

  • I take for granted how familiar I am with the overlapping worlds of education in New York City, from Bank Street College to my little special ed school to the loose network of teachers I know in schools all over the city. And yet, it’s an uncomfortable familiarity, the sort of illusion of Knowing It All that you get as a teenager about to leave home. I’m hankering for exodus from the school world of NYC, to be jarred out of my current jaded state, to pull back on the picture and see the edges. Actually, come to think of it, I feel about as confused about my identity as a teacher as I did when I last left New York and moved to Berlin. It’s such a familiar feeling, this welling up of frustration with the inadequacies of The System, being flooded daily with empathy for parents stuck trying to get their kids cared for in said system and being appalled, yes, APPALLED by the astounding waste of talent and human potential. More on this, I am sure, in later posts.
  • When I arrived in NYC as a twenty two year old graduate from art school (RISD, film and video major) I was desperate for human connection, for friends and mentors, lovers and surrogate parents. Incredibly, I found all of these over the years.  I have so far managed to botch my goodbyes to most of these folks (those closest to me being by far the shining example, and more on that later) by virtue of being completely overwhelmed by the richness I am leaving behind. In the months since Ben and I made the final decision to leave, I have been unwittingly focusing on all the little irritants of this place, a sign that it is time for a period of self-exile, for a refresher course on Loneliness Vs. Community.
  • As we begin to imagine how our lives will change in Los Angeles, I’m seeing with fresh gaze the workings this city, the ease of covering huge amounts of ground each day via subway, the buzz of being here that keeps me hooked at the same time as it makes me crave Quiet.  I remember back in my early years here how different New York felt than anywhere else. Driving back over the bridge or through the tunnels always felt like being a pinball launched into a series of bumpers and flippers, dinging bells and flashing lights. In those early years I left the city often, ambivalent about having left the nest I’d built amongst my artist friends still living in the quiet of New England, in post-industrial Providence. I contemplated moving back often, almost instantly nostalgic once I’d stopped paying rent there. (It turns out it’s a longstanding pattern I have, this quirky relationship with staying, leaving and goodbyes.)
  • There is nothing quite like the mashup of cultures here in New York City. The other day I was with Charlotte in a playground in Dumbo. It was recess hour at a nearby yeshiva, and hordes of Orthodox girls in matching plaid dresses filled the playground. Their teachers, all young women in the long skirts, wigs and sensible shoes of Williamsburg orthodoxy played along with them, tossing balls to each other and swinging on the swings. “This I will miss in Los Angeles,” I thought. This, the instantaneous nature of cultural immersion that happens in my city. This phenomenon that taught me I, too (this person who grew up thinking she was without roots) am from a particular group of People.

It’s 6:35. Sun’s up and soon Charlotte will be too, turning on the classical music lullabies on her crib mobile. I go in to work today, so it’s off I go to get ready for the day.


Momnesia

July 14, 2011

Sixteen weeks and two days ago I had a baby.

Here she is at two months, lying in the moss near Galway Lake in upstate New York at her dad’s family summer house:

Charlotte was born midmorning on March 18, one day after her expected delivery date of Saint Patrick’s Day.

In the middle of my first night with her, alone in the hospital and doing her first middle of the night feeding, I had the first of many experiences of the cosmic connectedness of motherhood. In the hospital bassinet beside my bed, Charlotte made small whimpering sounds to ask to nurse. She was instantly calmed by feeding; her latch-on reflex was intensely strong. Nursing her, it was as if all the unfed newborns in the world were calling to me; the babies of wartorn places, the babies abandoned by the side of the highway in China, infants of mothers on drugs…babies not being held or fed or calmed in those first hours of life.

In the days and weeks and months since this first night, I’ve been alternately enjoying and grieving what can only be described as birth-induced amnesia of self. The nurses in the maternity ward helped this along by never referring to me as Kate; I was only “Mother,” “Mom,” or “Mommy.”

Five months before, I sat on my therapist’s couch, propped up by several pillows, my hands folded in an unconscious prayer pose over my pregnant belly. This was my second New York City therapist. He was, like my first New York City therapist, a Jewish man, only he was about 60 years younger. I like to think that my Jewish therapists help to round out my Catholic upbringing. This new therapist was listening to me talk about my perennial issue: feeling like I was too complicated to manage. “I feel as though I’m always sitting in front of this control board filled with tiny knobs, and that I can never stop making micro-adjustments.” My therapist smiled and said, “Well, having a baby is like having just one big knob.” He mimed turning a knob about three feet wide.

In this new state of mind, I kept writing. Here are some early motherhood notes.

4/5/11

Charlotte is sleeping and I am not.

They say you should sleep when your baby sleeps, and there is good sense to that advice.

They say, don’t worry about cleaning the house or getting work done.

I am desperate for sleep, for rest that goes on and on until I am refueled. But I’m equally in need of putting experience into words. I need the practice of re-seeing, of translating. To read this later will be a treasure. And it takes so little to write it now; just a willingness to sit and wait for the chatter of my shoulda-woulda-coulda brain to die down.

Charlotte’s grunting and gasping in her co-sleeper, but by now (18 days old) I know these are normal sleep noises for her. Sometimes she sounds as though she is lifting something heavy. Other times she makes a squeaking like a gull at sea.

When I have the brainpower, I sit and write a bit of the story of her birth. I worry that it has faded too much in memory now that the pain of labor has subsided; all that remains is an easy fatiguing and waves of contractions that come and go as the womb shrinks back to its pre-pregnancy size of a pear.

She’s awake now. The grunts have turned from sleep-noises to calls for Mom.

4/6/11

I woke Charlotte up with the vacuum cleaner; testing out the idea that many babies sleep well with white noise like dishwashers and vacuums. Our vacuum is maybe too harsh sounding; it’s more high-pitched than some. I discovered that ours was clogged with cat hair and the thick twine fibers from the cat scratching post. I crouched in front of the kitchen trashcan and pulled them out with my fingers.

8:45 PM

Charlotte is asleep now. She fed while I tried to eat sushi with as little effort as possible. I was concerned that she was getting frustrated while breastfeeding; she’d start off fine but then break off, get sprayed in the face, have difficulty latching back on due to the slipperiness of the nipple and then, when I lifted her out of the way to stop the flow of milk and clean her face off, she’d cry and wriggle with agitation until I put her back at the breast, only now she’d be flailing and frenetic in her attempts to latch on and would be crying and getting sprayed with milk. Today I soaked through 3 different shirts in similarly distressing feeding sessions. So during dinner I paid close attention to her and watched for her signs of needing a break, and adjusted her positioning and my hold on her to help keep her latched on. She’s getting bigger every day so it’s no surprise that she needs new positions, but it means I can’t do anything else while I’m feeding her.

Which is fine.

Almost 3 weeks after Charlotte’s birth, the rhythm of nurturing a baby is beginning to make sense to me. Divided attention does not work. Layers of a goal-directedness are dissolving into responsiveness like consciousness does in the solvent of sleep. Sleep, feed, nurture her into sleep, then myself. Tiredness dissolves the urgency of my old kind of intellectual work like the morphine I was given in labor changed my brain’s perception of pain.

Labor and birth forced my attention down to a pinpoint on the sensations in my body. There was no more mind-body split, no ideas outside of my body. There was pressure, and pain, and fear. Divided attention was impossible there too. There was an openness in my mind because of this singular focus, and all of the sensations of labor were seared into my memory whole and vivid like dream images. So birth was a stream of images. And being with Charlotte, when I give in to the current of what my body-ruled mind wants to do, is an unfathomably rich stream of images too.

And now I feel the fatigue seeping in. I hear Charlotte making bird noises in her sleep from the other side of the bookcase (I’m in my office area). I’ll go to sleep now too.

4/8/11

On our bed. Charlotte is sleeping on her side with her head thrown back and her fists balled up at her face. We fell asleep together about and hour and a half ago, lying face to face. Two nights ago Charlotte started having back and forths with Ben in which they stuck out their tongues at each other. Now she is demanding interaction after her late afternoon/evening feedings with me. Long eye contact, hand and foot play and lots of vocalizing with each other.

4/13/11….. 26 days old

Late afternoon. Charlotte is asleep in her carrier after an hour of dancing and singing her around the dining room and putting her on her tummy on the bed.

Days and nights have settled into a rhythm of 3-hour shifts. It’s a challenge to stay ahead of the bleak mood lethargy induces, to get up and move put Charlotte in a carrier and start doing chores despite feeling like sinking into sleep. Sometimes I’m able to keep my attention on what’s right in front of me. More often it flits away to the book I’m reading (Homicide: Life on the Streets) or to thoughts about returning to work. The mornings between 3 and 8 are the hardest. I’m exhausted in a way that calls up the literal connotations of the word. I feel completely spent, like some essential fuel tank has been sucked dry.

4/21/11

Sitting at the head of our dining room table at 6 minutes to 7. Charlotte is sleeping in her big brown stroller under a mound of knitted blanket from her Grandma Laurie. Her eyes are slitted open, she makes gasping, grunting, gulping wheezy noises. Sleeping is effortful. She sneezed big this morning after Ben sprayed saline up her nose to loosen her congestion. Three big wet sneezes. She squirmed and stretched her body out on the puff comforter when we laid her down between us. She arched her back and pointed her toes and looked up at us seated over her. Her eyes were wide open. She is looking much more purposely now.

Yesterday we played on her yellow quilt on the floor. She is excited to learn about her hands and what she can do with them, and she has such clear ambitions! She wants to reach out and grasp things; my face, my shirt, her own mouth, the sheep toy Grandma Elizabeth brought…and when she fails she gets frustrated and waves her arms and legs spasmodically. It is so much like being with my six year old quadriplegic student, the one I taught at home. It brings me right back to lying next to him on the rug at his house and watching for the effortful, controlled movements buried within the convulsive, spastic ones that constrained his attempts to express himself and explore even the simplest toy.

I remember how surprising it was that his father would sit with him on his lap in front of a wooden train set that he couldn’t reach, let alone hold or manipulate on his own. I remember how his parents nodded and acted enthusiastic when I showed them how to attach popsicle sticks to dolls for him so that he could hold and move them on his own, and then….seeing that they never attached a single one to a toy.

I remember how attaching a thin marker to a pig figurine let him finally hold and control a toy and make play moves that I could respond to.

I remember all that year in school with him trying to teach paraprofessionals how to communicate with him by giving choices and asking yes or no questions, and seeing that the only people who really learned it were other five and six year olds.

Wednesday, May 11

I often think about how I’d like to write a book about my experiences becoming a teacher and learning specialist. These thoughts come when I am in the thick of a feeling of grace; one of those transcendent, luminescent moments when I am slowed down enough to tap into the raw feelings I used to feel when I first started to help children in school. These are moments when I forget the feel of my professional armor and am pierced by the pain of sympathy for a child.

Being a mother brings this capacity to feel others’ pain roaring back. The German word “Mitleid,” or “suffering with” is more apt for me than “sympathy.” The stab of seeing Charlotte’s month-old face crumple in startled pain after her first immunization was intense unlike anything I’ve felt, though it hits the same nerves as times I have had children cry in real anguish in my presence. In those times, the pain I felt in sympathy was a revelation of connection. Learning empathy for other people saved my life, I think. I don’t think I really had it before college, and even then, it was easily overruled by own discomfort.

I want to slow down and write about being with children and growing as an adult, as a person who nurtures and helps. I feel dull and speeded up at work; not tuned in. Cold. Being a mother is forcing a slow-down, but I feel a split in my lived life and my intellectual life. I want to settle in and ruminate.

Thursday, May 12

The end of a long day alone with Charlotte at home. Today was Hat Day at my school. I missed it. I’m not sorry. I hate wearing hats. I also hate school traditions that are designed make a school seem “fun” and where I’m supposed to act “goofy” according to some rule.  I’d rather just be in a school where having real fun is understood as vital to learning.

I feel disconnected emotionally from my students, detached. The pregnancy and now the baby are foremost in my mind and are the primary focus of my energy. Apparently there is a psychoanalytic term for it: Primary Maternal Preoccupation.

In contrast, I feel intensely connected to my writing work here at school. I’m working on a curriculum documentation project that feels endless; but I am contributing to its endlessness. I am trying to fix a problem that is like a hydra, with the proverbial constant sprouting of new heads.

But writing is a non-negotiable for me, and the curriculum project’s endlessness is my clue. I need things to connect, to add up, to become a creation. I need to turn every aspect of life over and over, in microscopic detail, and I need thinking and writing projects that force me to distill the details into a small container, spilling the excess over the sides into the continually refilling pot.

Friday, May 27

It’s 6:20 AM. Charlotte slept from 8:30-4:45; another eight hour night. At ten weeks, I am told, this is a rare and special thing. It seems to me that Charlotte realizes that I need to have sleep too so that I can return to work. Yesterday was the most natural-feeling day. We flowed in and out of togetherness at school. She spent time with the art teacher in the art room, the secretary in the office, and one of the principals. She has many surrogate moms at school.

I’m poised here at a precipice in my mind, with images and feelings cohering into new ideas that will slide me into a higher level of being, a place of greater kindness and patience and listening ability. A place where I am more quiet and observant and wisely responsive. Wisdom…that’s the feeling. The reason why I felt connected to Vajrayana images of wisdom is that they are non-dualistic. And they are IMAGES, with labels, for sure….but primarily images.

And do you know what brings new images, a push into the next level of relaxed being? Difficulty. Working on the edge of capacity, pushing through (or getting pulled through) the place where I am saying over and over, “I can’t do this. This isn’t working.” Getting pushed past the verbal-only level of protesting, doomsday mind activity…that’s what I guess is meant by ego in Buddhist teaching. Working with difficult situations teaches me again and again and again, relentlessly, that my perfection is impossible. There is only work. With practice, I can get closer to an effortlessness in work, a feeling of magnetic connection and self-propulsion, an influx of energy from being with others. Slamming head on into difficulty with my mind open and vulnerable is the vehicle for change.

Yesterday Ben drove Charlotte and me to work. It was already hot out and was slated to be an 80+ degree day. The elevator at work was still broken so I wheeled Charlotte in her stroller into a vacant office on the first floor.

That was a day that was filled with pleasant industry. The rhythm of childcare and teaching was just right.

Saturday, June 25

I sat for 15 minutes just now, after waking up next to Charlotte.

I felt the effects of what even a short, focused sit can do: pulling my mind’s jittery tendrils into rest for a few moments of just being. That’s not entirely accurate. What I felt was that I’d entered a refuge, a safe and protected space, and I felt the awe and reverence that I had in the Himalayas when I’d stood beneath the stupa in Leh, the Shanti stupa. Awe of what? Reverence for what? It’s a purely experiential thing that I am hard pressed to put into words. All I can say is it literally took my breath away.

That’s where my writing leaves off. I’m going to post this thing; it’s 8:07 AM and Charlotte is waking up.


Learning to Read is Nauseating

February 3, 2010

An eight year old boy sits at my computer, playing a word matching game online. Each time he finds two words that match, the words travel across the screen, meld into one word and light up. A sonorous computer voice reads them.

“Come,” intones the computer.

The boy talks back to the computer. “Come! Like comet, but come.”

“It does look like the word comet. But it’s  ‘come,’ like in, ‘Come with me,'” I say.

The next match is , “Away.”

Come away with me!” I say.

The boy nods.  He makes his next match: “About.”

The boy regards the sequence of words lined up at the bottom of the screen: come, away, about. He states, “About. I’m about to fro up.”


Balloons

November 25, 2009

I stole two small pencils from school today.

I didn’t mean to; I forgot about them in my coat pocket.  I borrowed them on the way out the door of school, on the way to take L to see the balloons.

Today is the day the enormous balloons are inflated for the Thanksgiving parade.

I put the two small white pencils into my pocket so that L and I could draw the balloons being filled up.

I picked up L for her reading appointment after lunch. I’d just come from taking a group to see the balloons, and I knew L would like seeing them.  I whispered to her to get her coat; we were going to see the balloons. She beamed. She is a reluctant smiler in school.

We walked up Columbus Avenue. She slipped her fingers out of her coatsleeve and held my hand in a way that was soft but not limp; she was comfortable. “So what are you doing for Thanksgiving, Ms. M?” she asked.

This is a child who balks at answering, “How are you?” when I ask in my office.

First we saw the helium truck. Then we saw Ronald MacDonald, with his red afro  inflated and the rest of his body spread out behind, flat and wrinkly.  We saw Shrek, plump and full of air. We saw Spiderman and found the patch that covered the opening where air went in. L mused about the restraints holding the balloons in place: “How they get that net up there? It looks like a big net. How they do that?”

We went back to watch Ronald MacDonald’s progress. Now his shoe was being filled with air by hissing hoses held by young men in red coveralls. “That is a lot of work,” said L a few times. “Where that noise come from? Is that water?” she asked when she heard the hoses turned on.

I turned us towards drawing what we saw. When I handed L the clipboard, she hastily drew a stick figure and then glued her eyes back on the workers and their hoses.  I said, “Let’s look and draw. Here, I’ll give you an outline.” She watched as the hump of the balloon emerged on the page, and when I added a little worker in front, she seized the pencil and began to draw, to look and draw, tentatively copying the way I made crosshatching for the net, and then boldly striking out on her own and drawing a long, looping hose coiled on the street.

I put the pencils back in my pocket and forgot them. After school I rode back to Bushwick on the subway. As I walked up the stairs from the train, I put my hand in my pocket to look for my phone. I felt the pencils in there.


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