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Posts Tagged ‘anxiety’

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“Travel flirts with the unknown—that’s why we do it. There are a lot of responses to the unfamiliar. Fear is only one of them: there’s also resistance, denial, delight, hope, attention.
 
Tourists respond to the unknown by consuming it, whether by purchasing artifacts or doing ghost walks or buying postcards. Pilgrims respond to the unknown by simply being there.” –Martha Stortz, The Progress of Pilgrimage

First of all, I love postcards. Even when I was having worship-full moments at the cave churches in Turkey, I was now and then thinking, “I hope they have a postcard of this!”

I want to keep something, to hang on to it, to use it later for a gift card or tuck it into my hope chest. I want proof that I’ve been there, to see it on my refrigerator every morning as I get milk for my coffee, to say, “I was at a holy place and it was beautiful and I have lived in the world.”

I love the tangible, the physical, the keepsake. I want photos of my friends and loved ones. I got my ears pierced a second time the first week I was in Oxford—it was so dreamy, and crazy, and overwhelming. I wanted a spot to rub on my body to mark the occasion. Last year, I got my nose pierced during 48 hours alone in Varanasi. I felt floaty, like I wouldn’t remember what I had experienced (despite blogging, photographs, prayer beads, books) and I wanted that moment of nerves and [dirty] steel.

I’ve been thinking about pilgrimage these past few weeks, here in India. I’ve been trying to both help my classmates, and wondering about what helps someone have a good experience when traveling in a new place.

The idea of “pilgrim” is helping me frame this. I like to be in control. I don’t like days or trips where I don’t know what is going to happen. And yet, in India… one pilgrim suggests, “Prepare carefully, and then prepare to change all your plans.”

It’s hard to do this, especially when we carry with us our “stuff.” My stuff includes: I am [relatively] wealthy, I am used to getting my way, and I have agency. Like, if I’m sitting in a table I don’t like in a restaurant, I have the wherewithal and means to get a different seat. I can change apartments, wall color, beds, city in which I live. I can save up to by a car, or a scooter. I can take Spanish lessons, or scuba diving lessons. If I see it in a magazine, I can find it and purchase it. This is crazy—the amount of things I have access to and means to get.

And so, when I come to India, it feels like I don’t have agency anymore. Someone else makes my food choices, books my train tickets, creates the agenda for visits, lectures, holy time, and free days. This should be a gift, it could be. And yet, my habitual response is to think about ways I would do it differently, what I would like to do or eat [instead] and to chafe against all the unknown.

And yet, when I think about the holiest, most mind-blowing and blessed times of my life, they are often when I was not in charge. Moments sitting in the choir, in my home church, next to a dear friend…in prayer and song, being completely physically overcome.

Late, late nights with friends, when I had trusted them to choose the drive, choose the music, follow the conversation, and know that I was no longer judged—a bliss, a rest, a sensation all over my skin of belonging.

Of reading a book come recommended, that I didn’t know I would like, and finding a character who stays with me always, changing one way I see even myself.

Following a professor’s advice, following a new path along the river in Oxford, climbing the highest temple staircase…all against my first thought, and then arriving—like popping a particularly thick-skinned soap bubble—into a new understanding of my-self in the world.

I didn’t have control over any of those things. And yet, I wouldn’t be who I am without them. This is a strange tension—when to let go, when to try and steer.

I haven’t figured it out. The word “practice” gives me hope. Contemplative practice, teaching practice, “setting up a practice,” “practicing” yoga… I have some tools: I read. I take advice. I listen to old people, young people, dear friends—and try to connect all of the advice, and stories into something that helps me make sense of the world. I am willing to try, even if I make a fool of myself. I’ll try the new phrase, the new dance move, the daal.

As I said after I led the dancing for Mother Mataji this year, “It’s not that I’m a great dancer, but I make up for it in enthusiasm.”

***

I once had a therapist point out to me that, physiologically, anxiety/fear is the same sensation as excitement. Sometimes, when I’m feeling the adrenaline, I check in with myself. I say, “Is it possible you’re a little excited about this? Is it possible this is a good thing that part of you is eager for?”

That happens a lot in travel. I feel the nerves ringing, and check, “This is kind of scary. But is it possible this is also…delightful? Worth noticing, at least for a moment, before you run away?”

“Practicing pilgrimage.” This is what I’m thinking about, here in the rain near the Ganges. I’m covered by bug bites, and beginning to tire of mangoes. I would give Rs. 500 for a fresh, Golden Delicious apple.

I start to get impatient with my classmates. I think, “Just try it. Be grateful. Don’t be afraid!” And then I remember a time when I’ve burst into tears because the restaurant I had hoped about all week is closed and my plans have to change. I don’t like new things! I resist the unexpected. Maybe it’s part of our human-ness. Hence: practice.

The Jains believe that every living thing has a soul, and every soul is on its own path to omniscience. I’m not better than you, or better than a tree, because each of our souls is learning, striving, growing…on its own. Maybe you can offer me some tips, some compassion, some hints for enlightenment.

Like a honeycomb of musical practice rooms, all of us going over the tunes we’ve been assigned, stretching our fingers, correcting our posture, trying again. And again, practice.

And then, sometimes, it’s time for a recital. I put on my ball gown (true story) and nervously practice one more time before getting on the train. You bring a picnic, a bottle of wine, some Whitman to celebrate afterwards. We all gather, to listen to one another: an appreciative audience sometimes shepherds miracles.

Small children can fiddle circles around me, but I do my best. I am relieved, and excited; we are happy and feel invigorated, walking to the park afterwards, several conversations swirling around, about bravery, audiences, making mistakes, good teachers.

I want to practice pilgrimage because I’m greedy for those moments: invigorated, talking together, courage, mistakes, appreciating miracles.

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prayer beads, hanging in a temple

I’ve been groped, I passed out from the heat, and my passport was either lost or stolen. Seven weeks in a very different county, perhaps it’s to be expected that there would be some bumpier bits. The only thing that tinges of regret is that I think I know better, and I hate having made a misstep.

We, men and women, get looks and stares wherever we go. Our orientation materials reminded us women especially not to be too effusive with language and gesture, to not touch or stand too close to members of the opposite sex—even within our own group, as it can give a wrong impression. We noticed that in the Bollywood movie we saw, there was never even any kissing—despite the fact that it was a love story and featured at least one wedding. In contrast, in Spiderman, the two stars—ostensibly high school students–kiss passionately and the female protagonist—a teenager—dresses provocatively. If the only images you have of Western women are from Hollywood, your ideas about what we do and are will be flawed.

In Jaipur, five of us went up to the Monkey Temple. We had taken a tuk-tuk there, but it was kind of a remote place, and it was harder to get a tuk-tuk back. Four young men offered to give us a ride in their car, back down to the main part of town, where we could get a tuk-tuk to campus. We were in a large group, we had a guy with us, and it was the middle of the day—I certainly felt safe, and no alarm bells rang.

However, nine people in a compact car are a tight squeeze. We tried to be smart about how we sat—I sat in the front passenger seat with another girl in my lap, the two other women sat the same way against one of the rear doors, and we had the guy in our group sit between them and the other two men. Using the men in our group as “buffers” in transport and in restaurants and movies is one of our common strategies.

At a certain point in the ride down the mountain, I noticed the man behind me had his hand on my arm. It was a bumpy ride, and we were really crammed in, so I figured he was trying to adjust how he was sitting. He ended up groping my breast for a few moments, while asking me if he could, “Just one time.” I said, loudly, “No, no times. No times at all.” Only the girl in my lap realized something was awry, but couldn’t tell what—the backseat was too full of conversation and noise for anyone to notice anything. After he was finished, the man said, “I’m sorry,” as if that helped.

***

Our first day off in Varanasi was during the hottest part of the week. Undeteterred, Ashleigh, Nelda, Andrew, and Matthew and I headed for Asi Ghat, with plans to walk along the river north, to see the ghats and perhaps end up at the famed Brown Bread Bakery. Oh, it was hot. Not a cloud in the gray, heavy sky and the sun shining directly on us as we climbed the stone and concrete steps, up and down along the water.

I don’t actually remember passing out. I remember feeling faint, and realizing I probably needed a drink of water, and asking Ashleigh for some of her water. Next thing I know, I’m seated in an alley. Ashleigh had poured water down the back of my shirt and Matt had wet his handkerchief with cold water and put it on my head. Kids, cows, and merchants were talking to my classmates about me and making recommendations about what they should do.

I was quite out of it; even when we got to the restaurant I didn’t feel sure of anything. All I knew was that I was very cold, and very tired. I borrowed Nelda’s scarf to wrap around me and wished they would let me lie down and sleep. We ordered food, but in the meantime Ashleigh made me eat salt, and drink water, and eat sugar, and drink water. Bread came that I did not want, apparently I was a bit of a brat to Ashleigh about eating it—I was so cold and weary! She told me she knew it was hard, and that I was doing a good job, and just to have a bite.

I drank a mango lassi, and kept drinking all the water they kept giving me, and after an hour or so finally felt hungry. After I ate, and after another hour, I realized it was actually quite hot out and was no longer cold. All was well that ended well. But I’ve been even more obsessive of late about water, and embarrassingly grateful whenever I have two full containers and as much as I want or need. I’m also embarrassingly grateful for friends and community.

***

Finally, my passport. It was a perfect storm of little things that added up. I rode a bicycle rickshaw home alone. The driver was confused—or feigned confusion—about how far we had to come, and wanted more than we had agreed upon. This has occasionally happened—our compound is pretty far away from the town center, and at the far end of the BHU campus. It’s hard to explain to drivers, and they want to take us as a fare even if they don’t understand where we’re going.

I had just been to the ATM, which had given me Rs 1000 bills. I didn’t want the driver to see my entire wallet full of money. When we got to the compound gate, there was already the awkwardness that he wanted more money than we had agreed upon, it was starting to get dark, and it began to rain.

Usually, all of my money is in a small felt wallet. This wallet, with my passport, IDs, and debit cards, goes in a small Vera Bradley purse that I can wear cross-body. I took the wallet out of the purse, and thought I put the purse in my red backpack, which was sitting on the rickshaw seat. I turned my back to the driver, both to guard the money in my wallet, and so that I could see how much money I was taking out in the light from the gate.

Then, it was raining. I wanted to be done with the transaction and get away from the driver and back inside. I kept my wallet in my hand, zipped up my red backpack (thinking my purse was inside), and came into the classroom. As soon as I sat down, I unzipped the backpack to put the wallet back into my purse…and my purse was gone.

I said, “My purse. My passport. I left it…” Ashleigh and I ran back outside, Matt got on his bike to try and chase the driver down. Ashleigh and I walked up and down the road in the rain, using her phone as a flashlight, looking and hoping to see if the purse had just fallen off the rickshaw. Matt rode all the way back to the café, and back, in the rain, looking for a driver who looked like mine. To no avail.

It’s not the worst thing that could happen in a foreign country. It’s not even the end of the world. Ashleigh and the librarian and the campus driver/chef took me to the police station, which was itself a strange and interesting experience. I had to fill out a report and they gave me a stamped report to take with me to the Embassy. I went with Nelda and one of the workers today to see the Station Master at the Varanasi Rail Station, to ensure that I had permission to ride without an ID. (The written note I took with me, under instruction from one of the professors, asked that he “…please kindly confirm [my] berth and oblige…under Discretionary Quota.”) I feel like I’ve been in some dream concocted by Kafka and Wes Anderson. Tomorrow I ride the train back down to Delhi, to visit the Embassy. Apparently, if all goes well, I’ll have another passport (delivered via diplomatic pouch) in seven to nine days…in time to fly home with Matt and still go to Canada. Fingers crossed and hopeful prayers.

***

And yet, I still am kind of in love with this city. The tuk-tuk we rode in today, on the way to the train station, was crowded with seven passengers. Unbelievably crowded. Three adults in the front, three in the back, and one little boy standing between someone’s legs in the back seat. (I gave him a sheet of stickers: turtles, snakes, and frogs.)

The driver played Bollywood music on the stereo as we careened around the city, passing stands selling fruit, flowers, bathroom sinks, statues, umbrellas, garland, fried food, shoes, backpacks, plastic piping, posters featuring the Periodic tables, bangles, tobacco and beedee, chickens…

No one is unoccupied. Digging, selling, slicing, begging, carrying a child or younger sibling, carrying bricks or bowls of dirt or greenery, balancing family members on a bike or motorcycle, bartering, arranging…

Schoolkids fill the streets: some ride on “school bus tuk-tuks,” which are tuk-tuks with a flat truck bed on the back, surrounded by fencing and covered with a tin roof. Like a very small parade float. The small children, all in uniform, sit in rows on two boards, their backpacks hanging from hooks on the back of the truck. Older kids ride bikes—one, two, or three kids to a bike—or occasionally on motorcycles with a mom or dad. I love to see mothers, in saris and helmets, driving their kids around, an older kid on the back and a smaller one in front.

The smells are as endless as the colors: jasmine, cow and dog and human feces, rain water, frying savory food and frying sweet food, spices, tea, body odor and sweat, incense. I still get goosebumps of thrill and joy when I realize where I am, and how lucky I am to see what I see.

I return to the compound, dusty and worn from the train station. It’s going to rain again. The mangoes are over for the season. The dogs greet me, I see little kids running down the brick pathway, and hear bells ringing close by. Later, dozens and dozens of fireflies will light the trees as they escape the rain, and people I don’t know will once again cook me dinner, for which I will be grateful. My friends will make me laugh, and we will probably end up singing, as we do many nights. I will sleep deeply in the monsoon-cooled air. My love is coming to meet me here later this week, and I really don’t want for a single thing.

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photo from Two Stout Monks’ on Flickr

I’ve been loving reading posts on this meme from Grammar Piano and Matt, so I decided I would jump on in.

My favorite song is “Half a World Away,” by REM.

“The storm it came up strong. It shook the trees, it blew away our fears.”

This line I love. I often sing it to myself, or think of it. I think of dark branches, in that weird gray-green sky before a storm we used to get in the Midwest, and the smell of ozone in the air. I didn’t know it was ozone smell as a child, just that crackling smell of possible, of taking cover.

It has been raining a lot this week in the Bronx. The rain has pounded and pummeled the blossoming trees outside our door. This morning, when I went outside, the large magnolia blossom petals were all over the sidewalk, shining white in the gray morning light. The covered over all the broken bottles and litter in our yard, covered over the litter on the sidewalk and in the gutter.

I’ve always been an anxious person. My parents report that when I was little, I would take things with such grave intensity that I would tremble, or hallucinate. I would wake up early, before anyone, and wander around the house and yard, eating cold hot dogs from the refrigerator. I would sing in my closet, and in the garage. I tied curtains to my arms and legs, and ran around the backyard, in the rain.

“This could be the saddest dusk
I’ve ever seen
Turn to a miracle
High alive
My mind is racing
As it always will
My hand is tired, my heart aches
I’m half a world away here
My head sworn
To go it alone
And hold it along
Haul it along
And hold it
Go it alone
Hold it along and hold, hold.”

Sometimes it feels like recognition, when I feel fluttery and powerful inside, and when the natural world is in accord. When I was in high school, living along a highway just out of town, I used to wake up in the middle of the night, and walk barefoot across the grass onto the hot highway surface. No cars coming in either direction. Smell of fields and fragrant bushes in my parents’ yard.  Once, I took out a glass tumbler and threw it on the highway, to hear the shatter and tinkle of glass.

“This lonely deep sit hollow
I’m half a world
Half the world away
My shoes are gone
My life spent
I had too much to drink
I didn’t think
And I didn’t think of you
I guess that’s all I needed
To go it alone
And hold it along
Haul it along
And hold it
Blackbirds, backwards, forwards and fall and hold, hold.”

I was hospitalized for depression in the summer after my senior year.  Inside the hospital was long days. Wanting to nap, but not being allowed. Air conditioning and strange nights of sleep.  When I got out, I think my close friends were maybe unsure of what to do with me.  I have two great memories from that period, a brief time between getting out and when I went off to college.

“Oh, this lonely world is wasted
Pathetic eyes high alive
Blind to the tide that turns the sea
This storm it came up strong
It shook the trees
And blew away our fear
I couldn’t even hear.”

Three of my girlfriends came and picked me up at the house by the highway. I don’t know if I knew where we were going.  We drove out into the country, onto someone’s family land. A swimming hole, a small lake, completely surrounded by trees, and then farmland. It was so quiet. Late afternoon, just swimming.  I floated on my back, letting the water fill my ears until I couldn’t hear anything. Looking at the sky, seeing the dark ring of trees in every direction of my periphery.  Feeling thankful for friends that would bring me here without word or fanfare at all.

“This could be the saddest dusk
I’ve ever seen
Turn to a miracle
High alive
My mind is racing
As it always will
My hands tired, my heart aches
I’m half a world away and go .”

In that same week, my cousin Larry and I were out at the farm at the same time. We’d grown up there, like brother and sister, especially during summers. I guess we had some kind of conversation about what had happened with me, but I don’t remember it. We got on a four-wheeler, and Larry drove.  The boys were always more adventurous than me on the four-wheelers, but I didn’t complain when he jumped it over ditches, and drove us away from the farm and up onto our grandpa’s land, land between fields, dark with trees.

I don’t think I could find that land now, but I have such a vivid memory of driving onto it, looping around in the fields, through the trees, the four wheeler too noisy for conversation. Another summer evening, that weird kind of dark shade in trees before evening comes.

Even though the song describes going it alone, that’s not what I hear or feel when I am singing along to the song. Partially, this is because I sing harmony, because it talks of “holding,” and because the fears blown away are “our” fears. Even though the singer has sworn to (try?) to go it alone, it doesn’t seem to me like he has. At least, “Turn to a miracle/high alive,” always, always feels like a sudden surge of connection.

Also, I notice as I listen to it now, that although the lyrics read “hold it alone,” I have always heard and sung, “hold it along.” I guess I imagine holding something over time, keeping it, helping it along.

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Monday night. I had fiddle lessons in Times Square. Report cards for the high school were due that morning, but there was a mistake in my merge, so I had to do some fix-ups when I got home.

Tuesday, I had a phone interview with two professors from Boston University, where I’m applying for a PhD.  Also due Monday: a thank-you letter and uploaded photos in response to a small grant I got for my students.

Also Tuesday: more papier mache mask-making with my students, for which I had to gather supplies.

So, I got home from fiddle lessons at a little before 8PM.  We were both exhausted, and I had tried to commit to an 8:30 PM bedtime.  I said, “I’ll fix up my report cards for ten minutes, then hop in the shower, and be in bed with a book on time.”

Earlier in the day, I had been reading links and journal articles in my PhD field. I had sort of fallen down a rabbit hole– the more I read, the more I got both excited and nervous. I didn’t know enough! I wasn’t prepared enough for the Tuesday interview! What was I doing??

As I sat with my laptop, trying to fix the darn Excel spreadsheet with my grade data, I started to feel overwhelmed. I wished that I had time to prepare for the interview: to print out my purpose statement, and my CV, and to chat with Matt about my goals and questions they might ask. I wished that I had time to just putter, and then go to bed early and get rest.

The Excel sheet wouldn’t work. Matt tried to help me. I got frustrated. I actually tossed my laptop to the other end of the couch and said, “I’m done. ” A beat later, I sniped at Matt to leave me alone, and to go to bed, and I figured out the spreadsheet myself.

I have colleagues and friends who, when applying to grad school or preparing for the GRE, “take a month off” to do it. I’ve always been jealous of that. How do you say to people, “I’m doing my PhD apps right now, I’m taking the month off?”  How do you afford to?

When I took the GREs, I was teaching full time. I had an after-school job at Crabtree&Evelyn in the mall. Most school days, I would teach, then teach after-school, and then drive straight to the mall for the 5PM-10PM shift.  I had exactly enough money to take the GRE once. No second chances if I didn’t do well.  I studied for the math with my roommates, but that was it: no courses, no books.  Part of me was proud that I could do without, part of me was jealous of the other people at the swank coffee shop who were poring over them.

Last time I applied for PhD programs, I was working three jobs, in addition to full-time grad school. Once again, I felt proud that I was writing my essays on the train and picturing my CV while walking to my different jobs.  But I was also jealous of my classmates who would say, “Oh, I can’t– I’m working on my apps for these two weeks.”

Monday night, all of this was rumbling up through my mind, as I was fiddling with this darn spreadsheet. I also felt bad for sniping at Matt, at the same time feeling bad about not being able to ask for help. The clock kept ticking.

I finished the sheet, told Matt again to go to bed, and went to the shower. I locked the door so Matt couldn’t offer to help me again.  I fleetingly thought of hurting myself, prayed briefly to God, “Be with me,” and started to cry.

I cried and cried in the shower. I told God I was weary, and overwhelmed. I asked God to be with me, and to help me let Matt help me. I admitted that I was jealous of peers who had more time, or money, or the [perceived] luxury of time just to sit and think.

I washed my face. I kept crying. My tears were hotter than the water, which I noted. I worried that I would be terrible in the interview, that I wouldn’t get it all done. I started to think about how I never have time to even practice my fiddle, let alone keep up with my languages. I started to think about how many journal articles I needed to forward on to board members, to edit, writers to respond to. I started to think about how I must be a bad teacher, to have such compromised time to give to my students.

I cried harder.

I washed my hair. I fluffed the suds through my fingers, which always feels pleasant. I thought about how many times I’ve felt overwhelmed before, and that I’ve always been able to get everything done. I prayed again, “Be with me.” I started to feel God again. [That is, although I know that I am always in the presence of God, I am not always aware of this.]  I tried to take deep breaths.

I was thankful for the hot water. We don’t always have exactly hot water. I was thankful for the DuBois wine glass that I had perched on the shower edge. I noticed how nice the turned handle was. I took some more deep breaths.

I reminded myself that my history of working really hard set me apart from lots of people, and maybe makes me better. I reminded myself that I have always, _always_ been able to see the arc of God’s guidance in my life, and that God was probably most certainly with me at this very moment.  I reminded myself that asking and getting help from others has been a wonderful gift in my life, and if I could trust anyone, it was Matt.

I rinsed off. I put my hair in a towel. I unlocked the door. I put on my red penguin robe.

I went outside. I asked Matt about a form on the table, and as I walked around the counter to recycle it, I saw a hand-made note he had made for me. A hand-drawn penguin, arms (wings?) spread wide, illustrated how much he loved me. I started crying again. I told Matt I needed some help getting everything finished.

In the end, Matt helped me upload the student photos for the thank-yous, and sat by me, cheerleading, while I turned out an awesome thank-you note. I think we looked at some cute animals on DailyPuppy or CuteOverload. I thanked him for helping me. I felt better.

We talked about how I would do in my interview: Matt noted that I do really well in interviews, and that I would be fine.

I went to bed praying, and trying to remember that I have always been okay. Thankfully, I slept well all night. I woke up, took the flour from off of the fridge (for flour-water papier mache), drank delicious coffee, and kept praying that simple prayer, “Thank you thank you thank be with me thank you.”

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December 14 – Appreciate What’s the one thing you have come to appreciate most in the past year? How do you express gratitude for it? (Author: Victoria Klein)

Thanks to reading Lee’s blog, I can no longer just write about one thing.

1. My husband’s family. I think about them nearly every day, thanks to the Facebook. And being with them at holidays, and feeling surrounded by their love and _acceptance_ at our wedding is such a blessing.

2. Health insurance.

3. Being able to teach drama. Not by sneaking it in to an ELA curriculum, but outright, whole-heartedly, full on.

4. Working with Matt. Sharing students is wonderful, but also: when he hasn’t had time to do his share of dishes, I know it’s because he’s been working like crazy at school. It’s so easy to appreciate his time and the things that wear him out.

5. The nuns. They give me so much support–written, phone calls, e-mails, little postcards and prayer cards and notes. Just today I picked up a postcard Sr. Cyril Marie had sent in the midst of my certification troubles, and it re-inspired me. My Dad says the nuns are like the Elves in Rivendell. Not like us, and not of this world, and fading out of this world. Fewer and fewer women are entering the novitiate, so they tend to be old… and they are certainly not of this world. Some of them, they mystics, the ones who do not live in the world or even in the larger community: when they look you in they eye, you _feel_ their closeness to that close place.

6. Cable TV and DVR. Honestly: sometimes, I just want to watch _Law & Order_, and only _Law & Order_. It’s a comfort.

7. Our neighborhood: great fresh Mexican food, outdoor shrine at St. Lucy’s, public library in walking distance, seeing our kids and their families, Botanical Garden and Zoo in walking distance…

8. Living within our means. Having a good relationship with my student loan lenders, not having consumer debt, working on a budget and being mindful about what we have and don’t have.

9. Cooking with Matt: we complement each other, we take turns, we chop or clean up for each other.

10. Fiddle lessons!  I’m actually starting to learn things. I can play two tunes.

11. Baths. Reading in hot baths until I’m falling asleep.

12. Broadway UCC. This is the year I came to think of it as my church home. I have been fed and supported there.

13. My growing Sunday school there. There were years where I only had two small chickadees, some weeks I had no one. But they believed in keeping me around, and I believed– I could visualize, someday, Children’s Sermons on the chancel steps, full of kids, and so: it happened. It is joyful to see them and be with them.

14. Christmas songs. Oh, I love so many of them. Nothing beats singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” I know the harmonies, and can sing without looking at the hymnal– allowing me to gaze about whatever space I’m in.

15. New clothes. There were a few years where I couldn’t afford to buy new clothes. This year, with working full time, and with losing weight, I’ve been able to buy some new things. Buying new pants was so much fun! Having some new options is exciting, and I so appreciate it.

16. Daily Puppy.com  I can’t tell you how many times those puppy photos have helped me wake up of a morning, or in the middle of the night. Cuteness = serotonin, which helps anxiety.

17. How Facebook helps me keep in touch with some of my favorite friends, and hear their voices, and see photos and videos… I love feeling connected to in that way.

18. Getting manicures. They’re affordable in this neighborhood. I don’t quite get them weekly, but it is so luxurious to have freshly painted, colorful, unchipped nails. No dry, raggedy cuticles. Pleasing, glossy, candy-colored fingertips.

19. My Christmas stocking. My Grandma made it; I think there must have been a year when she made them for all of us grandkids who were born by that year. She did our names in glue, with red glitter. You can tell my name is a little too long, or maybe she didn’t plan for it well, but the end is kind of scrunched in. And some of the glitter is chipping away. There was a time in my early adulthood when I was ashamed of it. It looked kind of cheap and white trash-y. The mother of the guy I was with at the time got me (as a replacement) an embroidered one from Neimann Marcus. I don’t even know where that one is anymore.

20. How Matt knows me well enough that he can check out a stack of library books for me, and I will love every one.

21. The weddings of beloved friends. Inspiring, fun, gorgeous.

22. My own wedding. One of the happiest, most fun, most exciting days of my life. I fell in love with my friends, and with Matt, and with our families, and with my church, and with flowers and song and food… over and over again.

23. Knee socks. Last winter I discovered that knee socks are fantastic. And that I could wear knee socks under leggings under pants, on the coldest days, and be completely warm and comfortable.

24. Canada. My first trip there with Matt was sheer heaven. I only want to go back there again and again, and there is a whole subset of things I appreciate in Canada: pie, hammocks, water, swimming, stars, cooking with family, tiny Anglican church services, painting, reading…

25. The written word. I get so much: pleasure, excitement, learning, truth, perspective, connection, ideas, inspiration… from reading novels, posts, scripture, essays, articles. I am so grateful I can read and write.

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December 10 – Wisdom Wisdom. What was the wisest decision you made this year, and how did it play out? (Author: Susannah Conway)

I skipped the previous two days: one was on personal beauty, which I am bored about because I’ve written about it before, and the second was on the best party of my year, which was my wedding, of course.

What was my wisest decision this year?  I asked Matt, and he said, “Saying ‘I do’?”

Technically, I made the decision in years before…  Matt and I tried to be thoughtful or intentional about moving forward in our relationship, step by step. We never took it lightly. I can remember the first time we each said, “I love you,” and the times we talked about my moving to NYC, and the times we talked about Matt moving to NYC. The first times either of us made comments that gestured toward a possible shared future together.

When I try to think about how and when I am wise, I think about how hard it is to keep even-keeled, kind, and thoughtful in all the interactions I have with students. Yesterday, I had a tough last thirty minutes. My own students were perfectly still and engaged– we are studying _Romeo and Juliet_. The ninth graders are doing it, so they’ll see it soon, and I had local university actors come in on Monday to perform it, and we’ve been looking at scenes from the film versions.

Outside my classroom door: crazy. Three wild eighth grade girls were outside my door, banging on the window and hollering.  An emotionally disturbed (he has a para) sixth grader was laying on the table outside my door, hollering. He had been hollering–for another student–for thirty minutes straight. Just a plaintive, kind of disturbed repetition, but intense.

I was standing with my back against the door, and the girls were pushing at it, trying to open it and burst into my classroom. Luckily, my own students were doing a great job of sticking with the film, and ignoring the mayhem.

I ended up getting into an argument with another of my students, who was out of class without a pass, and adding to the disrespectful, noisy crowd outside my door. I raised my voice, she raised hers, and Matt and our principal swept in to pull her away; I went back into my room to finish up the day.

I felt terrible; I feel terrible. I hate hollering at students, and hate that I allowed the situation to escalate.

Matt and I talked about this whole situation a lot yesterday evening, because I was so bothered by it. We talked about how easy it is to escalate with a student when they get personal, and how we both value mutual respect and kindness in our pedagogies.

I was thinking this morning about the countless daily interactions I have with students. How many times a day I greet them warmly, compliment them, help them with something (needing safety pins, hungry, worried about something, needing help with a school question, lost something), welcoming them into my room, not holding it against them when they’ve been rude or had an outburst…

I think it’s wise to believe the best in someone, to believe they would like to be good and upright and hard-working, and to believe that given the right opportunity, they will do the right thing.

I had a huge fight this week with my baby sister, which spilled over into fraught conversations with my dad and his wife. A lot of the back and forth had to do with the students I teach, the community I live and teach in. Are these “good” people, or people to hate and to have contempt for?

It makes me really sad that my sister thinks I live in a “fantasy land” for believing the best of my students.

I’ve rambled on this post. I know it takes wisdom to teach, and I think sometimes my actions show wisdom, and when they don’t, I feel bad about it, and work to change. I think it’s hard to know for one’s self when one is being wise– easier to think, “Is this good, is this right, does this correspond with the ethics I choose to follow?” Hopefully, wisdom and grace are parts of those ethics, and flow around one…empowering our choices and actions.

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December 5 – Let Go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why? (Author: Alice Bradley)

I have stopped procrastinating over “important” e-mails.  For one, I don’t have the time to sit on and then revisit things, and for another, the anxiety around ruminating, drafting, saving, re-considering, and then finally sending the e-mails got to be too much.  Finally, as the journal has grown, and as I’ve gotten busier, I haven’t had the professional luxury of waiting to move on things.

When I first started working in an e-mail culture, I would come into the office three or four days a week. I would go through my e-mails, flagging, and then making a “to do” list on a Stickie on my desktop.  I would answer the quick “in house” questions, and forward others.

Then, I would turn to other work.  For especially tricky e-mails, I would wait. I might e-mail someone else to gather information, I might ask aloud in the office, I might draft something and save it.  In this job, the e-mails I was least likely to answer immediately had to do with money, new contracts, asking for something, or with a big responsibility attached. Early on, I would print these e-mails out to write on them, and “keep” them. Keeping the paper copy made me feel more secure. This drove my friend/boss Nick crazy, and I eventually had to stop.

With the journal, nearly every e-mail, it seems like, there is some “next step.” If not, then I am dealing with famous/important people, or with tricky (funding, money, friends, collaboration, cultural issues) topics that keep me from feeling comfortable just typing something out and hitting “send.”

I cannot tell you how many hours of sleep I have lost, or waking hours wasted, fretting over an e-mail. My colleague Josh sends out e-mails like waves of fresh air. Constant, a strong stream. I marvel at his ability to write and send, write and send.

I asked him about it, and he said he also feels nervous e-mailing certain people, or e-mailing about certain topics. He says he goes in spurts: once he gets started writing and sending, he sends out batches.

Josh also reminded me that for first-contact e-mails, it might be important to be extra careful, but at this point, dealing with our board members and staff and such, people know me, and they already think that I’m smart and great, so I have less to worry with. He asked, “What’s the worst that could happen?”  (Funny, my favorite therapist often asked that.) “I’d make a mistake,” I said. “So then you’d fix it,” he replied.

I’ve been having to e-mail much more quickly lately, with no time to ruminate. At first, this was a bad thing; I would wake up nervous later, nervous that I had said or done something wrong, or e-mailed the wrong thing to the wrong person.

When I first started having panic attacks, I read somewhere that the body can only keep up with that level of running for so long. Eventually, it will peter out.  Small comfort in the midst of one, but comfort still.  Similarly, I can only spend so many hours in the middle of the night fretting about e-mails. Eventually, it began to wear off. For the umpteenth time, I would remind myself, “If you made a mistake, you’ll fix it. People probably think you’re smart and nice anyway. It’s okay.”

So far so good. I’ve sent e-mails to important people, e-mails talking about funding/money, difficult staff-relations e-mails, e-mails asking for things…  I think I’m getting used to it.  Besides, don’t I have enough to do without over-thinking e-mails?

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