Thursday, December 15, 2011

Holiday Concert 2011

I'm not going to lie to you, there are some days when I honestly feel like I chose the wrong path. I could have been an actor, you know. (Heaven only knows whether I would have progressed beyond mattress sale commercials, but a gig's a gig, right?) I could have been Scarlett Johansson. I could have stuck with composing, or maybe gotten a nice professorship at a small university or somesuch. I could have married that fellow in college and had two or three kids by now. But instead here I am teaching music in a tiny school in a tiny town on an even tinier budget, trying vainly to stay ahead of thirty-some-odd middle schoolers who'd much rather talk to their friends than listen to me prattle on about things that, if I'm really honest with myself, I don't truly understand.

And then there are days like today, when that same little group of kids and I make music so good, you can actually see pride and confidence shoot like lasers from their faces. It was that good. They knew it, I knew it, and their parents really knew it. It didn't matter one bit that Johnny was on In-School Suspension yesterday, because today in front of God and everybody, he was part of something undeniably awesome. And no one can take that away. There were times during our modest holiday concert tonight when I felt like my heart would burst. I'm sure I was making ridiculous faces. It was the kind of feeling you get when you suddenly know in the deepest part of your soul that no matter how dark it gets, the sun will rise again, that it is rising right now, that somehow you are the sun.

I love my students. They are amazing, heartbreaking, hilarious, endless souls, with unique faces and compelling stories, and it is an honor to have this small part to play in their growing up into who knows what. And I would not trade it for a thousand trips to the red carpet or a post with the Seattle Philharmonic. No. Tonight, I was the lucky one. Tonight, I was blessed.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Two things I want to remember...

I was talking with a friend of mine from high school on facebook a couple days ago about concepts of punishment and compassion in religion. This friend and I disagree pretty sharply on the relative merits or dangers of faith/religion and its effect on society as a whole. And since issues of faith are rather close to my heart, it is sometimes hard to participate in these discussion threads. But when all is said and done, I am thankful for them because nothing makes you re-examine your assumptions like talking with someone who vehemently disagrees with you (as long as you can keep your discussion from becoming a fight).

So, while I was going back and forth with this friend of mine, I discovered a few things that I hadn't really been able to articulate before.

First, I came to the conclusion that belief systems do not exist outside of people. Although anyone can see that an abstract concept, like a number, for example, may exist independently of people, other ideas (like justice, mercy, compassion, christianity, atheism, etc.) only manifest themselves through the interactions of people with each other. And people are complex, mysterious, and very, very valuable creatures. This means that no matter how much I may hate the idea of racism, for example (my friend and I weren't talking about racism, by the way), no matter how much I abhor the idea that one person should mistreat another person simply because of the culture into which they were born, I cannot simply hate the racist. Because that 'racist' is a person with a name and a story of her own. While there are times when the ugliest things come out of her mouth, there are other times when she is not consumed with racist bile, times when she may actually say or do commendable things. I cannot solve the problem of racism by rejecting the racist entirely. The real solution, I suspect, is a lot harder than that.

Which leads me to the second thing that occurred to me, and it has to do with 'fighting malice with understanding,' a phrase I used in this discussion, which my friend asked me to clarify. Here's the thing: I think that people choose to be malicious. And if malice is at root an act of the will, then it can only be abandoned by another act of will. No matter how hard I try, I can neither through force nor rhetoric cause another person to change his will unless he chooses to do so of his own volition. It's like in the classroom. The best lessons are those that require the students to come to their own conclusions, because the knowledge they build with their own metaphorical hands is the knowledge they'll keep when they leave. So, since I can't force someone to stop being malicious, I must find out where the malice comes from and then help that person build a new knowledge base. And in order to do that, I have to understand what makes this person tick, as it were, which takes...wait for it...Compassion!

Compassion is a beautiful idea, but it's darn hard to put into practice. Basically, it is when someone else becomes as important to you as you are. When you have compassion for someone, you step into her shoes, share her hopes and fears, and work for her good as you would for your own. Needless to say, it takes a lot of time and energy to have compassion for someone. But it is, as far as I know, the only way to effectively engage with those pesky ideas that wreak havoc on that person's soul and spill over onto the poor souls around her in the form of malice, cruelty, neglect, and other hurtful things.

So why, you ask, are we not all compassioning it up like an army of hipster Mother Theresas? Well, like I said, it costs a lot. And I'm not just talking about money here. Malice is almost always a symptom of some sort of suffering, I think. And if you're going to open your heart to someone, you are going to share their suffering. We've all been faced with situations where those closest to us had to suffer, and in those situations one of two things happened. Either we disengaged, out of self-preservation, and let our relationship starve, or we stepped in and felt the searing loss right along with them, maybe even the double pain of having our loved one lash out at us in their moment of weakness, but ultimately our compassion brought us and our loved one closer to each other and closer to wholeness. So that's compassion. It will cost you your time, your money, your comfort, and your heart, but I am convinced that it is the only way to truly fight malice. It may not win every time, because the thing about wills is they can't be forced without being broken. But when compassion does win out, how very beautiful the heart is that has been made new by Love.


So, yeah. Just a few little thoughts that have been rattling around in the old bean the last few days. Thanks, friend, for making me think.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Throwing the ruler away

I can't tell you how many times in the last few days I've despised myself for not measuring up (Did I say days? Heck, I've been doing that for weeks...months...years...decades, even.) It's like I see my life in negative space, only the failures register. I'm almost thirty. Where are all the flying cars? Why have I not written that symphony? Am I any closer to curing cancer? Where the heck is my happy little family? And let's not even mention the Olympics, which I am too old for by now anyway (unless I want to try the random cross-country skiing and shooting events). Makes you wonder why anyone cares to even talk to me.

Aren't you glad you don't live inside my head? You'd be dealing with this kind of stuff all the time.

Of course, now that I think about it, I can't quite persuade myself to believe that God thinks of me this way. I certainly don't value my students based on their personal accomplishments. No, I value them for the life that bubbles out in their pattering conversations and endless passions. I love their lopsided smiles and their home-grown left-field jokes. I can't get enough of their simple, unaffected affection. A small gesture of kindness from one student to another, and my frostbitten heart just melts. And if this is the way I feel about my students, limited creature that I am, how much more does God delight in me? If my scrappy attempts at living are enough to make God grin--God, the Creative Mind behind the Milky Way--who am I to complain? Apparently, I have been operating under a double standard. Either I am as valuable as my precious students, or they are as defective as myself. Maybe it's both.

So forget it. I'm done measuring. Weakness is not failure, it is what pulls us out of our cold castles of self-sufficiency to do for each other what we could never do for ourselves.

God made me this way on purpose.
He gave me this journey as a gift, and the thing you do when you get a gift is you say 'thank you.'
So, thank you, God. I know You do quality work.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Two Poems

Every day I eat and sleep, but these comforts aren't enough.
Friends and family care for me, but these people aren't enough.
I have ears and eyes that hear and see, but I'll never know enough,
and whatever I do to fill these needs, I'll never be enough.

Since You made me holy, I'm
so full of holes that I feel
the whole world could
pass through my heart and
nothing would stick.
But if that's what it takes to make
room for Your love, rip away, my Friend, rip away.

You must be awfully big.

Snorkeling is like flying
(and I've always longed to fly.)
From above, I watch the piscatory folk,
slivers of brilliance that flee my curious touch.
Maybe they think I'm a shark.

Silly fish! I'm not here to eat you.
I just want to watch you swim.
Show me your fishy moves and think
your fishy thoughts, so maybe I
can, for a moment, see the sky
from your submarine valley.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


You know how a cat likes to stretch out in a patch of sunlight on the carpet and just snooze?
Well, that's what my heart feels like today. I am content, so content, in fact, that I've forgotten what the problem even was (or problems were, in case there was more than one).
I am in Kauai this week, and whatever issues were giving me crap last week can just wait til I get back. I am too busy looking at breathtaking vistas, feeling the ocean breeze on my skin, and wearing the same swimsuit shorts three/four days in a row.

One of the nice things about getting older (and I am getting older, no matter what the other teachers may say) is a gradual letting go of the desire to impress anyone. I don't need to be cool. Heavens above, I'm practically 30! If I haven't achieved 'cool' yet it certainly isn't going to happen now. In fact, I don't even need to be normal. I am a real grown-up now, and that means I get to say what's normal. And if I say it's normal to get up at 6am every morning to exercise with my parents and then traipse around the beach all day in a rash guard and swim shorts, then it must be so. Hah! Chew on that, Kardashian women!


Sorry. I don't know what got into me. Perhaps I've O.D.ed on sushi and vitamin d. Maybe I'm just happy because I've spent the last three days catching glimpses of the back of my thighs in the mirror and they're not nearly as hideous as I imagined them to be. I know that seems kind of shallow but the truth is that living in Washington means I never actually see my legs, at least not for any real length of time. And every lady has at least one aspect of her physical appearance about which she finds it nearly impossible to think rationally. Gentlemen be advised, it's just the way we are.

In any case, I just wanted everyone to know that I am having a blast here in Kaua'i. Really. Wish you were here. (But I don't wish it enough to be sad about it, so don't let it keep you up nights).

Monday, July 25, 2011

A Blue Day

Today is a blue day. I just woke up that way. It happens.

I was looking on facebook and saw that one of my college friends has been redecorating a room in her house to get ready for a baby. My throat catches as I click through pictures of a lovely country house, a real garden, smiling relatives...

Sometimes the pressure of all the millions of things I want to do and ought to be doing pushes down on my chest so hard and all I can do is cry and hope no one else sees how messed up I am.

But who the heck am I to be whining about my stillborn plans when the world is positively falling apart? People's hearts are disintegrating around me, and I'm upset because I want somebody else's white picket fence. I asked God a long time ago to use me however He saw fit.

A little over a year ago, I started following a blog written by a woman whose husband was in a terrible accident. Reading about all the challenges she faces as her husband slowly recovers from a brain injury, I am constantly awed by the strength and the grace and the wisdom that has grown in this woman's heart. But it scares me, because it reminds me how far God is willing to go, how much He will put us through, to grow good things in us. The things we cherish are not always valued in the same way by the One who views things from eternity. I can't cling to anything, anything at all, except Him.

What options do I have, really? I could try to run away, pretend it's not important, bury myself in the prettiest lies I can find--or spin some for myself. I could go watch tv. I suppose I could try to fight God... but that makes just about as much sense as shutting myself in the freezer.

Nope. The only thing to do now is to go ahead and have my little cry, and then take a deep breath and say, "Okay, what's next?"

And trust that this journey is worth the cost.

I have a feeling that the finished product is going to be beautiful.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Somebody has been reading too much poetry.

Sometimes I look up from my toil, sit back on my haunches, fix the Almighty with an exasperated eye, and say...

You know this isn't going to work. I can't do any of it. I am a square peg in a swiss-cheese world, an odd duck, a curious flower too strange to purchase and too alive to be happy on the shelf. And you send me out here like this in my weakness, like a butterfly in a hailstorm, like an ice cube in the Sahara, with no guarantee of success beyond the assurance that you will be with me as I melt. I'm just going to mess things up. Weakling that I am there will be destruction in my wake. Other souls will suffer for my sins.

So why even bother?

What could you possibly be getting at?

And wouldn't it be easier to get there without me?

My beautiful dissonance, my lovely jagged jewel. I put you in that smooth, flat world because some of my children have forgotten how to bleed.
As you hold each other's hearts, you'll find your own are lighter.
I sent you out into the storm, fragile bloom, my winsome butterfly, because I find your weakness beautiful,
and know that dying eyes will glimpse your
soft defiance
and find the will to look for me again.

Friday, July 1, 2011

two things...

Who's that woman putting blog posts all over this 'Thoughtful Spot'? Oh yeah, it's me...

I promise to add more after this weekend (Church Camp-out Yay!), but I needed to write down a thing or two before I forget.

First, after months of not knowing what to expect (and therefore expecting the worst), I received word last week that not only do I still have a job at Conway School, it is going to be a FULL TIME job (hooray for insurance! Now I can make that appointment with my dentist!). I may not be spending all that time teaching music, but it's a good sight better than going into retail to supplement my income. (Although, my brother and sister-in-law very nearly convinced me that a nice little job in a book store would not necessarily be a bad thing. In fact, a small part of my heart is disappointed that things didn't come to that. I could have been like Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail... ah well, c'est la vie.)

And second, this thought occurred to me during community group last night and I wanted to write it down before it slipped out of my brain. This is the thought: the gifts God gives us, things like Grace and Love and Existence, are not free, they are priceless. We are not asked to pay for them because we can not pay enough, not because they have no cost. They do have a cost, a steep one, one that reflects their inestimable value, but we can not pay it. So God pays, and in a sense we kind of help pay for each other*, and these things are given to us as gifts.

*I'm not quite sure where that thought might lead, but it wanted to come, so I let it.

Anyway, I'm off to rough it in the woods for a few days!

Happy Summer!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Spring Break, or A Sudden Onset of Industriousness

Today is the first day of Spring Break, so this morning, I sat down and wrote out a list of everything I need to do before the break is up. It is a long list. Three loads of laundry and two batches of cookies later*, it is still a long list. Here are some highlights:

-Write a Unit** on the concept of the Hero in fairy tales, folk tales, and myths. As part of my effort to be as employed as possible in the coming years of economic woe, I have been taking classes and jumping through hoops to become qualified to teach English Literature in addition to Music. This Unit is the last hoop. I'm kind of excited about it. I actually get to teach the Unit in May. To real kids.

-Write a short play for Grandparents' Tea. I've been looking forward to this one, too. Every year, I have to come up with some little drama that links together whatever interesting songs I can find in our curriculum (that haven't been used already), and fit it to the talents and desires of so many fourth graders in such a way that the fourth graders in one class can practice distinct portions of the play without having to join the other class until a few days before the performance. It's a bit like sudoku, only with people instead of numbers.

-Run at least two miles, at least four times during the week. My friend and I are just beginning to train for a half-marathon. We aren't officially training yet because we don't own any of those funky running tights you wear under your work-out short shorts.

-Get my tattoo. Yes, this is the week. I feel a lot like the poor kid on the high dive who's been standing there, shivering, for hours and hours but still can't quite drum up the courage to step off the edge. I keep looking at the spot where I plan to put it and wondering if I'll feel cheap for having my arm forever stained with words. They're good words. Nevertheless, I still wonder.

-Survive several long days of lonely freedom without reading or watching fiction. For Lent this year I gave up 'fiction in solitary.' I added the 'in solitary' part so that my friends would not be doomed to watching documentaries on our traditional Friday Night Movie nights. And actually, the ban includes all tv and movies, as well as fictional books and websites dealing with fictional material*** whenever I am by myself, which is a lot of the time. As you can imagine, my Saturdays have become very long. Some days I wonder why I didn't just give up cheeseburgers and leave it at that.
I am convinced, however, that since God put this on my heart, good will come out of it. I'll just hope that my idea of good isn't too far away from His idea of good. :)

-Visit Friends and Relations.

Whewh! If I get even half of the stuff done that I've set out to do, it will have been a week well spent.

*Baked, not eaten
**Theoretically, teachers teach in 'Units' comprised of individual 'Lessons' which can be further broken down into 'Learning Objectives,' 'Direct Instruction,' 'Guided Practice,' 'Formative or Summative Assessments,' and other such soul-sucking terminology. Realistically, teachers teach in a haze of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants improvisation that more closely resembles the mental contortions of a stand-up comedian who has just discovered that his audience is from another planet.
***I'm looking at you, imdb!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Rumors of my untimely demise have been greatly exaggerated.

In case you're wondering, I am not actually the consummate speller I appear to be. I write my entries (and emails, and comments on other blogs, and facebook updates) with an extra Firefox window devoted entirely to checking questionable spellings via the intarwebs. Case in point: I very nearly spelled 'exaggerated' with an h. In this, as in so many other areas of my life, the appearance of genius is actually an otherwise troublesome neurosis so channelled as to do some sort of good, however small that may be, in addition to keeping me up nights, causing premature baldness and ulcers.

As you can see, I am not dead. I did not suffer a blow to the head and spend the last three months slowly recovering from amnesia, nor do I work for the CIA (honest, I don't!). The simple fact is that I just stopped writing. I woke up, did things, ate food, showered, and went to bed over and over and over, without ever stopping to sit down and spend a few minutes letting you in on any of it. Poor readers. I do sincerely apologize. I guess I just forgot that any of it would be worth making a note of. Like that strange breed of single person who suddenly wakes up to find that he has no photographic evidence of his existance after college, I found myself looking at my own blog and thinking 'when is she going to post something new here?'

Well, today is only sort of that day. (Yay?) Unfortunately, all I have time for is a rather elaborate excuse, but hopefully every time I come to my blog to see what the people who follow me are up to on their blogs, this small note will weigh on my conscience, like a dirty pot on a stove top, until I can write again.

Until then, my friends, Happy Friday!