Monday, October 29, 2012


Addie and I have been run/walking together for a mile on Sundays--I'm trying to get her into the idea of fitness, even if she doesn't love team sports (we let her out of soccer.  It just wasn't her thing).  It's also an awesome opportunity for us to be alone together for a little bit and to talk.

Anyway, we're on our way back to the house and she says mama?  And I say yeah, and she says the kids at school tell me my hair is messy sometimes.  Oh.  Yeah?  I say.  Yeah, she says, but I just tell them it's not messy.  It's windswept.

Lesson:  Fitness, good.  Reading, better.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Art of the List

I've rediscovered my love of the List.

Oh, I've always been a list-maker.  I make lists for everything--life goals, the grocery store, stuff the girls need in their backpacks, rules for fending off an attacker.  I also have a task app on my computer that allows me to record due dates and projects and the like, and that's an indispensable part of keeping the many moving parts of my life on track (sample items:  "finish grading policy analyses;" "change Nolie's eye appointment;" "turn in Science Communication review;" "make Sandy cape").  I let this task list function as my memory, and I'd be pretty screwed without it.

But I had stopped, for a while, making daily to-do lists.  Frankly, I found them tyrannical.  Long-time readers of this blog will know I have struggled to find balance with what "must" be done v. what I'd like to do, and when that gets too out of whack I get really cranky.  I've made some significant adjustments at work in this regard, but then, wouldn't you know it, my personal life up and changes and E. is now traveling every other nano-second.

Pesky change.

I've read twice recently about women (older women, actually, in retirement) who found contentment by starting their day with a hand-written schedule that they followed to the letter.  I'm not so interested in that, but I do like the idea of setting down my tasks for the day.

Unexpected side effect of taking up the daily List:  contentment.

The art of the List, for me, comes in when I add things that aren't really "have-to's" but "want-to's."  Adding "take a bath" and "do yoga" to "prep for class" and "re-read chapters 2 and 3 of Nelkin" makes me excited about the List as opposed to dreading it.  It also puts self-care on the same playing field as responding to students' emails.

And the List helps me to slay one of my fiercest dragons, the dragon of procrastination.  It's not that I'm lazy, mind you, but if there is, say, an e-stack of 28 papers in my inbox that need to be graded, I all of a sudden get very good at working on that article I've been neglecting for four weeks.  The List allows me to put "grade three papers" and then I get to "run three miles" or "check The Berry" and that feels really good.

It's important to make the day's List do-able.  Put a bunch of stuff on there you'll never accomplish in one sixteen-hour period and you'll just end up pissed and resentful.  Leave the mountainous tasks for the task list.  The task list should inform the daily List, but shouldn't be it.

And if something doesn't get done, okay.  It gets moved to another List.  But the Art is in listing things that you'll mostly be able to do, barring crises or unexpected upheavals.  In which case the List should get the boot.

I feel better.  I feel happier.  Like things are more balanced, and I'm actually accomplishing things rather than just fighting against the flood of things that always have to be done.  I can be present with the task at hand rather than fretting over what else remains to be done.  The List has gotten me out of my hole of resentment, my existential questioning of what I should be doing with my life, my procrastination, and my feeling of always being underwater.

Thank you, List.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Chaos Within

Maybe it is just because E. has been traveling a lot for work and our lives have been so full I haven't had much time for stillness and practice lately, but there has been some darkness gnawing around the edges of things for me.

There is the little girl who was taken and just found, no longer herself.  Normally I don't, but I am unraveled by this one--she has glasses just like Addie's.  Around the same age.  In our area.  I had to have the stranger talk with the girls again, which is always so difficult.  Nolie especially is so trusting that I think it would take just a stick of gum or something.  I feel obliged to scare her just a little so she'll be careful.  I worry he his reading this, knows their names.  It would be my fault.

But then I also think this is such a small part of the world, and that most humans are really quite good, and I don't want to be the one who placed the sour lens of suspicion over my girls' eyes.  That will come soon enough.

Remember:  to love, to pray for that family, not to retreat into fear.  This is not about me.  This is not about us.

The darkness re-enters, though, and I think that some very troubled people have most likely taken the sweet pictures I have posted of my girls here over the years and have used them for nefarious reasons, and I feel sick to my stomach that I have made them vulnerable in some way to these peoples' eyes, that innocent pictures of my children are no longer my own and how could I have.

The desire to express comes up against the desire to protect and I think this must be just part of the condition of parenting.

How to expand rather than contract?  How to be courageous rather than afraid, but without also being foolish?  Is such a thing even possible?

I had to ask a student to leave my class, and he hurled unkind invective at me over email; I went to a conference where the very name of my department of work was met with sneers and howls.  I've worked too many long days in a row and am having trouble finding any real peace or joy and wonder why and whether we shouldn't throw in the towel and start over somehow.

The trick is to both fully live in the moment and at the same time know that this moment is only for now, and that difficult times pass.  I am no good at this trick.

From Prayers for a Thousand Years, Michael Ventura:

"We have entered a new Middle Ages, a time of plague, famine, violence, extreme class disparity, and religious fanaticism--and also (as in the late Middle Ages) a time of profound discovery and change.  A time when it is terribly important, and often dangerous, to preserve values and knowledge--to stand up for visions that most of this crazed world can't comprehend or tolerate.

The value of having an inner map of the world as it is (not as it's broadcast) is this:  it allows you to know that your task is larger than yourself.  If you choose, just by virtue of being a decent person, you are entrusted with passing on something of value through a dark, crazy time--preserving your integrity, in your way, by your acts and your very breathing for those who will build again when this chaos exhausts itself."

Chaos within, chaos without.  I suppose only one is within my sphere of influence at the moment.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Campus Wildlife

When I first started work at my university, the place was practically like a ghost town.  You'd walk across the giant quad behind my building and there would be no students.  I asked my students about this and they would just shrug and say everyone was studying.

But things have changed in the last ten years.  The quad is usually bustling with kids playing ultimate, or the marching band practicing, or kids walking tension ropes:

Though odd, this is a much healthier past-time than the things I engaged in during free time as an undergrad.

When I worked at Harvey Mudd, there were lots of people on unicycles.  Here, it's juggling:

I took this picture on my way to class.  The students asked me why I wasn't juggling.

I told them I didn't know, but I wish that I was.

More On Time

I asked my students yesterday about their memories of September 11.  They talked about being in third grade and their schools being shut down, watching it on television over and over again, their parents racing to come pick them up.

Jesus.  I remember like yesterday sitting in the living room on Vine St., smack in the middle of my twenties, watching the news all morning, followed by days of panic and sadness.

While my now-adult students were in elementary school.

Time flies.

Sentimental, All of a Sudden

Pretty much every other moment I just want to grab my kids and hold them in one spot and prevent them from growing up one inch, one minute more.  Alternating moments are spent trying to help them (push them?) to grow up right.  I've spent plenty of time being an annoyed and harried parent, spread too thin and not guided enough by love.  I think that has really been changing these last few months, and now I wish I could go back and do so much differently.

This guy was in the middle of the floor when I got home.

The old me would have just seen another mess to be cleaned up, I think.  Now I see an artifact of my kids' fleeting childhoods.  Another freaking paradox to contend with.

I should mention that I'm able to be in love a little more now because 1) we have a cleaning lady 2) we are in therapy every other minute fighting to make our marriage work and 3) my tenure package is in.  The material matters.  Having a bit more time for love, for loosening, really helps.  Not that I couldn't have done better.  I could have.  But I could have done worse, too.  We all need help sometimes.

My Brother, 33

My grandma Evans, 99, passed a way a few weeks ago.  Which stinks, except it meant that I got to spend some time with my family, and could celebrate my brother's birthday with him.  I love all my brothers, but J.B. is the one I spent the most time growing up with.  We're good friends now, and I love him with all my heart.  Happy birthday, J.B.!

First Day of School

Third Grade, First Grade

Us, 10


Coach E.

E. and I are making our way through the show Friday Night Lights, which is really, really good and I love it.  I have a big crush on one of the main characters, Coach Taylor:

Coach Taylor, played by the awesome Kyle Chandler, he who can make Croakies look hot.  Sweet God of yumminess.

But my very own E. is also coaching now, and I admit to feeling a little swoony watching him when he takes to the field with Nolie's maurading band of six-year-old soccer players:

Nolie likes it too:

In other news, one of my students looks and acts a little bit like Tim Riggins from Friday Night Lights:

I told him this and he says I'm a fool for watching the show because the film and book are much better.

Okay, Tim Riggins.

Nolie, 6