Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Educators: Living Outside of the Box

Middle School; that difficult and confusing time period when children begin the evolution into pre-teens, it’s when discovering yourself and each other is just as important as learning US History or building a city out of modeling clay. This is the time when a new world of opportunities opens up and you are now given the ability to make some of your own choices. You begin to see a glimpse of the person you envision yourself becoming.

But this is also where the separation begins. This is where the future jocks start to grow muscles and cheerleaders prance around with their first set of pom-poms, singers exercise their voices, artists have paintings hung on school walls like trophies, geeks gather around Bunsen burners and (my personal favorite) the Audio Visual and news paper/yearbook group is formed.

Through all of these milestones, there is one constant – the educators. If you’re lucky enough to get one teacher who speaks to you and pushes you to be the best regardless of your surroundings or personal situation then you have been truly blessed.

That teacher for me was Mr. B. He had a reputation of being absolutely nuts, off his rocker and one step away from the funny farm. Regardless, when you stepped into his class, you knew one thing for sure; you wouldn’t be falling asleep!

When you were in Mr. B’s class, you knew without a doubt that at that very moment his students were the only thing on his mind. So much so, that interruption of any kind was simply unacceptable and blatantly intolerable. He was the only teache who taped a hand drawn monster face to the intercom speaker and would lob whatever was in his hand or had the unfortunate privilege of being nearby when an unwanted voice broke his rhythm? At one point, there were reports that a classroom chair was thrown – but that’s just a rumor of which has yet to be proven.

I had Mr. B for two subjects throughout my stint in middle school; reading and math, my best and worst subjects respectively. It was in 7th grade reading where he introduced us to what I consider a classic science fiction novel: A Wrinkle in Time. Since I am as far from a sci-fi fan as you can get, it took me a while to appreciate this book, but I soon found myself fascinated and immersed soley because of how he explained every detail. To this day, I still have the original copy we read in class packed away in my treasure trunk ready to be passed on to my eldest.

The next novel was kept strictly top secret. On the day of the unveiling, I remember sitting at my desk literally giddy with anticipation as I watched him. The glimmer in his eyes was clearly shining more brightly than usual. Once the bell rang, he casually strolled to his desk wearing a Cheshire cat grin. Instead of picking up books to pass out, he picked up stacks of neatly photo copied paper stapled together. There was no cover, no title sheet, just the beginning of chapter 1.
It was here, at this moment in time that I experienced my first and last horror novel. One I slyly hid from my mother for fear she would march into the school’s office and demand we cease and desist reading, discussing and passing out such filth. I still get chills when I think about those hours in the classroom reading this novel out loud, scary voices included. And oh, heaven forbid a voice break the through the intercom or a stapler or tape despenser would face certain death!

I’ll bet Stephen King never imagined his book “The Mist” would ever be given as homework for pre-teens!

Here, is my personal shout out to B for igniting a passion in my soul for the age-old pastime of reading. Oh, the places I’ve gone in my imagination over the years and the large volume of boxes upon boxes of books in my garage! Thank you for giving me a gift that I will cherish and take with me through all of my life.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Educators and Insubordination

Someone once told me you can identify the teachers who chose their profession according to three criteria; June, July and August. They are the ones who are there for the paycheck and the vacations. They are the ones who lecture, give tests and clock out at 3pm.

In my life, I can look back on all the educators I encountered and think of a grand total of three who influenced my life, lead me, guided me and inspired me. There was something unique about each and every one of them. Something no other teacher possessed. A quality they brought to the classroom and to me personally that to this day still lingers. They were the ones who didn’t think outside of the box – they WERE outside of the box.

And then there were the ones who for one reason or another put me in a position to make a choice that would define who I was to become. Some of these were simple choices, others were difficult. It was one of these teachers that touched my life first.

I can clearly remember in kindergarten when my teacher – whose name I’ve chosen to forget – assigned us the project of making a pillow out of felt. Many times I had watched my mother sew many things; buttons on pants, holes in socks and the occasional rip in a seam. My confidence grew as I strode over to the supply cabinet and carefully picked out my thick needle, blue felt and red yarn to match. With complete intensity, I sat at my table and began.

I first lined up the two sheets of felt and cut them each the same size. I picked up my needle and thread and imitating my mother, licked one end of the yarn before pulling it through the wide eye of the child safe needle. I picked up the felt and began steadily pulling the needle through over and over again. Once I was completely satisfied I reached in a large bag and took a small handful of white cloud-like puffy stuff and filled it up careful that it was evenly spread. It was here that I made the dreadful mistake. I proceeded to sew up the fourth side!

Pride filled my tiny 5 year old heart as I marched confidently to the front of the room to her desk to show off my creation… a pillow to beat ALL pillows! She nonchalantly took my blood sweat and tears in her hand, rolled it over from side to side and then casually placed it on her desk. She then turned to me, looked me dead in the eye and told me I had failed the assignment. How could this be!? It was a pillow! And it was as perfect, just like the ones on our couch! Perfectly square with precision sewing, the white puffy stuff quite evenly spread within. I pointed all of these things out as serious as a lawyer delivering the closing argument for the case of a lifetime. With her spider-like hands lying crossed in front of her, she waited for me to finish my argument of which I don’t believe she heard one word. She then looked blankly at me and proceeded to claim that this was no pillow. Pillows had one open side. A tense silence ensued.

I deeply contemplated the words she had just spoken. The first worry lines in my life appeared on my forehead as I went over her flippant instructions in my head. After a moment, I looked up at her composing myself as best as I could and exclaimed “but that is a pillow CASE. A pillow has all 4 sides sewn!” Needless to say, I was sent to the corner for insubordination and received a zero for the assignment.

It was the first time in my life I remember being punished for doing the right thing simply because I chose to speak my mind and point out the discrepancy. Was there another way to handle the situation? I believe to this day that this individual saw the world in black and white and could never be blessed with the opportunity of seeing shades of grey.

It wasn’t until middle school that would I encounter a man who would change the perception I had of myself and inspire me to not only be who I was but to embrace it and have fun at the same time.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Limbo on Skates

Limbo was only fun when I was a kid wearing roller skates.

Back then at the local roller rink, it was fun to try and find the right balance and poise to roll under the bar without plopping on my bottom or doing a face plant. The thing about Limbo is that it only gets harder as the game progresses and it all depends on what type of person you are as to how you finish the game regardless of your ability to get under the pole.

In the first round, the dirty wooden bar is so high that a girl of my short stature could almost roll under it without bending at all skating to the end of the line with a sense of false pride. There are, of course, always the ones who fall down in the first round. The boy with no coordination or the girl too busy focusing on impressing said boy that they both falter, laugh at each other and then go off in a corner to play the pre-teen game of ‘boy likes girl too, but boy is too nervous to talk’ game, which is much more fun than Limbo.

Before the second round of limbo no one really takes notice when the bar goes down those precious few inches. There are many who have gained that initial false sense of security the first time and take those inches for granted. But not me, I only have to bend a bit… no biggie. A couple of the taller kids get knocked out of the game and go sit on the benches and chat it up with others or grab a hot dog and a drink and enjoy watching the game while at the same time pointing and laughing at the boy and girl in the corner from the first round.

The third round gets a bit more difficult. The skates you felt so agile and swift on just moments before now feel heavy and clunky. You begin to watch the technique of others to see if there is something they are doing that you could put into your turn to ensure you make it to the next round. But when your turn comes up you look around and realize there aren’t many left in line and the majority of the kids in the rink now have their eyes on your game of Limbo. Can she do it? Can she make it one more round? You take a deep breath to build up your confidence then charge towards the bar like you’re a tiger attacking its prey. It’s not until the bar brushes your hair that you realize you are only going to make it by a very small margin. The victory is sweet, but short lived as you see the pole go down again, so close to the ground you could swear it was completely impossible to get through.

In the fourth round, you start to visibly sweat. Some of the taller, more bendy kids are pulling out split-like maneuvers. Here is where we see the majority of face plants. You move up in line and your nerves start to get the better of you. Can I do it again? Will it work this time? What’s the worst that could happen if I don’t? Am I good enough? This time you approach the pole with shaky caution. As you glide under, you wobble and nearly fall, but you hang on and push yourself just a bit more to get through those last few inches. You did it!

Now we’re down to a select few – the Limbo Elite who look more like contortionists than elementary school children playing a game. This group is typically made up of the gymnasts, the shortest and the ones with the most flexibility. You see one go through with one skate in front of her while the other is pulled close to her chest and she leans ever so gracefully to one side. Another one goes slowly up to the pole and does the side split slowly and very delicately under the pole. All they have to accomplish is clear the pole. If they fall once their on the other side, it doesn’t matter, it’s getting to the other side that counts. On the other side, there will always be someone there to help you up if you happen to fall or suffer a blow to the head, a painful rear or simply cater to your wounded pride.

I’ve seen some kids get to this point and simply give up. They have no confidence and hear the voice in their head declare ‘There’s no way I can get through that”. So they give up, go around the Limbo game, grab a corn dog and pretend to enjoy watching the rest of the game. All the while, they feel like failures, unlike the ones who tried in the first round and fell.

In the end, the winner gets either a cheap toy or a blue ribbon, either one will soon be forgotten because the real prize is to say they made it under the pole!

I never thought I’d say that the game of Limbo is a life lesson worth learning, but it is. Which kid are you? The one, who goes for it and just has fun but fails out of the first round? The one who tries different methods to get under the pole come hell or high water but confidence wanes when it gets tough and they give up? Or are you the one who will skate away with the prize?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Trust is a Figment

Pollyanna trusted everyone. Let us never forget what happened to the little blonde, pig tailed, seriously naive girl! In the end, she fell from a tree, broke her back and was paralyzed. Lesson learned.

She believed the best in people and always went out of her way to do something nice for everyone she met. She always trusted, no questions asked; she gave and gave and gave to the embittered towns people never letting their nasty little high fluting attitudes seep into her heavenly goodness. Did the doctor and all those miserable people in the town flock to her in the end? Yes. But let us be serious, was it pity, guilt or a genuine realization of the message she was so desperately trying to bring to them? I used to think it was a happy ending, now I struggle with the thought that when she waved good-bye from the train taking her away to a hospital to fix her back, everyone in town more than likely heaved a sigh of relief that she was finally gone.

I used to be called a Pollyanna. Yes, I had pigtails as a little girl, but that was where the physical resemblance ended. I was always trusting and thinking the best of people in every situation and in the end always seeming to get screwed.

How does anyone make the jump from constant disillusions of happiness to seeing people for who they really are deep inside? The problem is that I happen to like my worn in rose colored glasses. Everything looks so nice and pretty and I can go about my merry little way without a care. Without those glasses I feel like I am living in the bowels of hell where everyone is already damned.

I can liken it to Willy Wonka. Although slightly odd and misshapen with his own dysfunctional family issues, he was also screwed by the people he trusted the most and when he least expected it. So he holed himself up in a world he created for himself; a safe place filled with oompa loompas that only did his bidding because of their really messed up co-dependent relationship and the coveted cocoa bean.

But deep down, Mr. Wonka he knew he was missing something in his life. So he constructed an elaborate plan to choose one child out of millions to inherit his fortune. The only problem with the story is that in the end, he simply moved the poverty-stricken child and his entire family into his factory and still never went outside to face the demons banging on his gate. Again… was it really a happy ending or do we just want it to be because we want to eat our Wonka bar guilt free?

So how do you go about creating the line between real trust in people and out and out disillusion? It seems that just as I lack a “gay-dar”, I also seem to lack a trust mechanism to protect me when I go Pollyanna on people.

The truth is that I have demons knocking down my gate and I plan to face them head on. And although I would most enjoy a safe and happy false world created around chocolate, but let’s be honest. If I were to hole myself up and eat nothing but candy, it would also not have a happy ending.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Love or lust?

It can start with an unexpected and powerful electric shock to your system. Your instincts go into overdrive before you see, hear or smell them. Your body reacts without your consent. When your eyes meet theirs for the first time your heart stops then begins to beat in an uncomfortable rhythm. As they are drawn to you, getting close enough to touch, you loose the ability to breathe. Your whole body feels their presence; every hair on your arms, every smell is magnified, your mouth goes dry and every inch of you tingles. You are like two powerful magnets that must come together.

It makes no sense; there is no logical reason as to why you are in a constant state of disruption when they are near. Gentle butterflies turn into a fire breathing dragon in your gut. You want to run to them, to embrace that electricity, to feed off of it, to dive into it head first and bathe in its beauty. Sometimes that’s exactly what we do without a clear thought of the consequences of our reckless abandon.

Is this love at first sight or pure unadulterated lust?

Lust prevents all rational thought and blocks sane emotions from climbing to the surface. It turns the most docile individual into a rabid animal tearing at any and all barriers between you, fighting wildly to get an ounce of satisfaction. What happens when lust is acted on? What is the end result? Do you exhale a sigh of relief because an itch has been scratched? Will your thirst be quenched or will you be left parched? This one act can at times ruin lives. It can take away trust, break lifelong bonds and create a festering, oozing wound forever.

Lust is a momentary hormonal reaction without a true foundation to build a meaningful, lasting relationship. Lust is not solid providing only a fleeting physical satisfaction leaving you emotionally empty and unfulfilled on the deepest possible levels. And yet, the desire for this meaningless satisfaction is so great that we sometimes risk everything.

True love grows and blooms similar to the beautiful strong oak tree. It stands tall upon solid roots with outstretched branches cradling lush green leaves. The mighty oak has humble beginnings and takes the time needed to grow.

It can take up to 50 years for an oak to grow and mature to a point of producing acorns. They are fragile and susceptible to destruction from the simplest force of nature. They need protection. Only with constant nutrition and good conditions will one in ten-thousand get a chance to reach for the sky.

The only thing to keep these 100 foot trees from toppling over during a rough storm is the roots it put down as a tiny acorn hundreds of years prior. Its branches, leaves, flowers and acorns can be burned, broken and destroyed, but the roots are strong and deep.

What are the chances that the one you’ve chosen to love is the one in ten-thousand who will protect, nourish and grow strong roots with you to ensure your love will last? Does true love begin with a jarring electric shock or is it gentle and slow growing? I believe it’s different for everyone. Each of us has the same opportunity to be the one in ten-thousand that make it. A powerful shock can knock an acorn to the ground giving it the chance to put down roots.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Pick a Battle Cry

Forge ahead!
Life is short – and so am I, but I can still get a ladder.
Get up off the floor of self pity and walk tall through the door of opportunity!
Make IT happen because IT won’t get up and walk to you.
Visualize yourself where you want to be and discover how to get there in one piece, and then breathe.
Find your passion then harness its power to overcome your fears.
Bring yourself to the happiness you deserve, only you can.
Lick your wounds but then take a real bath before you face the world.
Easy isn’t always best, just easy and potentially less rewarding in the end.
Comfort food lasts until your waistline expands.
Move on, move up, but move or you will soon find yourself the only one standing still.
The opposite of fear is HOPE.

Monday, May 3, 2010


Someone once told me that when you live your life in black and white and you are suddenly blinded by color, the energy and power it brings can be overwhelming. The fact that a door has opened and is literally shedding new light into your world can make you want to run head first into the unknown.

The light, this beautiful, amazing, warm and loving light should never be taken lightly. It can hold the answer to prayers, a solution to that never-ending problem, the confidence and courage so desperately sought or it could simply be the energy we need to see the black and white world a bit better until we are ready to take the step. It can also serve as a conduit to turn the black and white world into more of a pastel.

These are crossroads. Sometimes we face them unknowingly and only in hindsight can we see the impact of the decisions we make in that moment. Afterwards, days or years later, we go back and analyze our every word and action until the images themselves are distorted and the truth is twisted by our own guilt. “If only I knew then what I know now” becomes your personal mantra and either you learn to forgive yourself and move on, or this pain eats away at your soul.

The more difficult ones are where you find yourself standing utterly alone in the epicenter of the crossroads itself with the clock ticking in your head. Dust blowing all around you engulfing every inch of your being, infiltrating your lungs making it hard to breathe. You neither see nor hear life in any direction for miles and miles. The unforgiving sun beats down on you, urging you to make a decision before the deadness of your surroundings claim you. You stand there, dripping in sweat, with labored breathing contemplating each road knowing each will ultimately lead you in completely different directions. In desperation you make a choice with no way to foresee where your journey will lead or if the seductive light will still be at the end, waiting for you with open arms.

We all do the best we can when faced with these crossroads in our lives. Sometimes we go running down the first road we see in order to avoid tempting thoughts of what the others may bring. Other times, we stand there so long debating the pros and cons of each that the desert sun claims a piece of us and we loose more than just an opportunity, but will eventually face the guilt of indecision.

The same person also told me that when you are in this epicenter with a difficult choice to make, sometimes, just sometimes, it’s best not to do anything and wait to discover if the light shines bright enough at the end of the right road to show you the way home.

And so... I wait.