Sunday, January 22, 2017

What I Learned from My Sankalpa

sankalpa, open-heartedness, 2017

I'm calling it a day on Sankalpa 2017. When we first started writing about Sankalpa in 2013 (When I say "we," I mean Lee, as I didn't start writing about Sankalpa until 2014), it was determined that we'd do so for 24 days. That seems about perfect, and then it becomes time to write about other things. Here are some thoughts about my 2017 Sankalpa, which was, "I am open-hearted."

I am generally open-hearted (and optimistic) by nature.

It's my natural tendency to be curious about people and relationships. I'm generally accepting, and I'm open to twists and turns. I really like these traits in myself, which is what led me to this year's Sankalpa. 

Sometimes when you're an open-hearted person, you're also the kind of person who can have her feelings hurt pretty easily. This leads to guardedness. But, I think a defensive stance can cloud my spirit. OMG, look how emo I'm being! New-agey! Sankalpa!

Anyway, the January Sankalpa reminded me to be open until it was time to be guarded. Does that make sense? It's like when Shef was going to race some super fast kids in cross country, and he wasn't sure if he could finish first. My advice: "Put yourself in the race, and just see.  You might have to drop back," I told him, "but go out with the leaders and give yourself a shot." He did that.  In the end, he didn't win the race, but he did finish 3rd. Out of like 200-some kids! So, pretty good. 

If you decide first that something is going to be painful or uncomfortable or just not worth it - if you decide before you even try it - you might miss out on some amazingness. I think that's pretty true.

Open-Heartedness is not the same as saying yes to everything.

It's easy to confuse being open-hearted with clogging up your calendar. It's important to be curious and accepting, but smart to decline some opportunities. This year, I articulated something about my work life that I've known for a long time, but haven't made a rule. It's this: No school-night social engagements (concerts, plays, dinners) during the months of September, October, January, February, or May. That's a rule now.

People think that a teaching schedule is really wonderful with lots of free time. That's true, but the free time isn't at all flexible; and in the months I mentioned above, I'm underwater with work. I can't be open to any distractions, or else I start to lose it. You can't be open-hearted when you're losing your mind.

Sankalpa 2017! I'm adding this one to my arsenal, just like "I am intentional," and "I am a creative risk-taker." It's all good.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Sankalpa Status Report: Hmmm

poop, potatoes, middle school

Did you know potatoes could look like this? Like poop, I mean? I was surprised to find them in the bag of little potatoes I was roasting for dinner last night, as I've never seen potatoes in quite this shape before. But(t) per my Sankalpa ("I am open-hearted," remember?), I chopped them on the diagonal and tossed them with olive oil. Not bad, as it turns out. The lesson here is, "Looking like poop doesn't necessarily equate tasting like poop." Whoo!

In other news, I've finished my report card comments. Just now, I spot-checked a few so I could provide an accurate report to you. Sure enough, I carefully considered each child and wrote both what I admire about her or him, and what might be done if they'd like to earn a higher grade. I'm sure you're relieved to hear that I've executed one of the required functions of my employment.

A third tidbit on my Sankalpa: I've been open-hearted to slovenliness. As I sank into report card writing, there was no time left over for exercising. So, I didn't do it. The calendar looks clear tonight, so it's possible I'll take in some yoga. I'm open to it, as it turns out.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Sankalpa: Open-Hearted to Work Management

work management, time management, open-heartedness

Sankalpa comes in January, right when I'm doing one of the hardest, most labor-intensive things I do in my job. It's writing report card comments. It takes me forever to write the 250 words on each kid, telling each individual how much and why I value them and what exactly they could do to perform even better in English or Humanities class. I could do it faster, but then I'd do it worse; and that's totally not my way.

I like writing comments best when I spread the job out over a week. I write a quota each day, and then by the due date, I'm finished with no sweaty mad-rush panic. That was my plan this time around, and I was going to write 7 comments a day beginning on Monday. That would leave a bit of a log-jam for the weekend and MLK day, but nothing I couldn't handle with deep breathing and logic.

On Monday, I started, just as I planned, right after school. It was then that I remembered exactly how hard is is to start. The rhythm wasn't coming, and I remembered that in order to really do the job well, I had to look up work artifacts and discuss them specifically. Each comment was taking upwards of 15 minutes. After an hour (4 comments), I gave up for the day.

Not to worry! On Tuesday, I'd get back at it! Things would be easier! I'd cut the time per comment down to 12 minutes. Except on Tuesday, both of my co-teachers were absent and the spoken-word artist I'm hosting in 7th grade missed our class because she was stuck in traffic. I had two meetings, dinner to make, I had to wash my hair, and Shef had his choir concert.

I wrote zero report-card comments.

So, now I'm in the hole. The hole, however, is not that deep. I'm going to be open-hearted (It's a stretch, I know, to apply my Sankalpa to this situation) to the change in schedule. I'm going to take a deep breath and try again to get in the comment-writing zone.

You know what? This isn't that big of a deal. I think I can do it. I've done it before, and it was totally fine.

Looks like, every year at this time of year, I write about report-card comments.

Bragging as an inspirational work strategy. I'll try this today.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Sankalpa: Open-Hearted to Family Movie Night

crying, movies, family movie night, emotions

I'll admit that sometimes during family movie night, I'll stay busy on my computer while the rest of them watch a movie. In my defense, I do generally stay in the same room with the family. Also, they generally choose some superhero film I have no interest in watching for the sixth or seventh time.

But tonight, because I'm so flipping open-hearted per my Sankalpa, I stayed right there in the fray for Pete's Dragon, the 2016 version starring Bryce Dallas Howard and Robert Redford.  As a bonus, this was our first time watching this fine film - Mac got it for Christmas from Uncle Kevin. This Pete turned out to be pretty much what I thought it would be: a predictable, heartwarming Disney story of motherless children, their heartbreak, and the families that heal their wounds.

And it was so sad and wonderful - and Robert Redford looked so scraggly, old-guy handsome - that I bawled my freaking eyes out.

The kids have been teasing Dan for months about his infamous tendency to cry during movies and television shows, and also to cry during some especially touching advertisements for laundry detergent and/or auto insurance. When anything remotely moving happens on screen, the kids are immediately studying their dad. "Are you crying?" they demand.  And then they laugh at him and sometimes hug him, too.

So, obviously, Dan was crying at the end of Pete's Dragon when Pete (Spoiler Alert for the most predictable movie ever!) lets his dragon go and decides to live with Bryce Dallas Howard's human family that can meet his basic needs, like for clothing. The kids were lasered on Dan's welling emotion, until Mac realized that I was also overcome.

"Dad!" Mac. "She's got DRIP TEARS!"

"It's sad," I blubbered.

And it was. See how open-hearted I am? I'm moved by fuzzy green CGI dragons. If Sankalpa were something to win, I'd be doing it.

A 9:30 bedtime keeps me from watching most TV.

When the brothers aren't making each other cry, they're conspirators.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Sankalpa: Open-Hearted to Opposition

open-heartedness, open-hearted, goals, resolutions

All, right - it's been a few days since I started my, "I am open-hearted" Sankalpa. It's going fine in that several times per day, I tell myself, "I am open-hearted." I've been doing this in tense moments, especially, and I think the intentionality helps me maintain my stance. Let's hope.

I'm expecting more tense moments today, as kids are going to start using glue guns for a project.

Glue guns?!

My co-teachers love projects. And of course, I do too. Right now we're working on an art installation designed to spark a community dialogue about the issue of immigration. What could be cooler than that?

It's just that we've reached the adhesive stage of the project. When we get to adhesives, the nausea kicks in. Last year, it was velcro and spray glue. Holy hell. The year before that it was duct tape and some other kind of glue. Not much better. In fact, I seem to have blocked the memory of the exact type of adhesive, but I know there were also stencils and black paint. Anyway, after fifteen minutes of gluing, I feel like I'm going to hurl. I get hot and twitchy, and I start to yearn for grammar worksheets and silence.

Luckily, I'm open-hearted, and every year I participate in planning a project that will be rewarding for students and our school community, and that will make me suffer.

See?! Sankalpa!

Project Land. This is the extended version of what I'm describing above.

I think Shef must hate projects, too. This is the story of his very first one at age four.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Sankalpa: Be Your Best Self

sankalpa, resolutions, open-heartedness

I love goals, to-do lists and resolutions. I also love this sankalpa thing I started doing because Lee was doing it in 2014. As I said last year"Sankalpa comes from yoga, with its origins all the way back in the Vedas, and it's about awakening your true nature."

So, instead of saying, for instance, "I resolve to be more open-hearted," you tell yourself (and the world) that you already have that wonderful quality within you. You're just practicing embodying it.  As it happens, My 2016 sankalpa is actually, "I am open-hearted."

The thing is, I usually do embody an open-heartedness, but in the past year, I've found myself feeling more guarded. Sometimes, I think guarded can be a smart stance, especially if you're doing something really scary or dangerous, like scaling a rock face without equipment. But, if you're always walking around preparing for an impact (as in a car crash or getting hit with a medicine ball), I think you might be missing out on some cool and fulfilling connections.  I've been working against the impulse to close up with the motto, "You can't do it if you don't try to do it." 

In the month of January, though, instead of talking myself into being vulnerable and open-hearted, I'm going to just be that. Be my true self. "That sounds really emo," my birth father told me when I explained it. It's true. But, personal change with staying power just is kind of emo. 

Also in 2017, besides being open-hearted, I'm also finishing my book. Just saying. That's a goal or a resolution. I'll probably achieve it by using my previous sankalpas, which were "I am intentional," and "I am a creative risk-taker." This is good.

The creative risks in addressing the symptoms of puberty

"Writing is easy and fun for me."

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Best of 2016: Fiction

reviews, books, book reviews

This is it! The last Best Of list this year! Of the 64 books I read this year, 26 were in this final category - adult fiction. Here are my favorite five in alphabetical order by author:

Jennine Capó Crucet
Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capó Crucet
This is the first book I finished this year! Here's the story: The first in her family to graduate from high school, Lizet leaves Little Havana in Miami to attend an elite college in New York. This creates a permanent and heartbreaking rift with her family, especially with her mother who fixates on the immigration of a young boy, a fictionalized Elián González, whose own mother drowned en route from Cuba to Florida. A compelling and heartfelt about family, loyalty, and upward mobility.

Liane Moriarty
The Hypnotist's Love Story by Liane Moriarty
Moriarty's 2016 release, Truly, Madly, Guilty, wasn't her best, but I read two other novels by this fave author this year that I couldn't put down, including this one. In Hypnotist, Moriarity establishes the humanity of both leads, Ellen and Saskia, from the start. This is notable because Saskia is a stalker - she can't let go of Patrick, her ex-boyfriend, who is now dating Ellen. Saskia feels compelled to follow Patrick - around town, into restaurants, and on vacation. It would be easy to dismiss Saskia as just crazy, but Moriarty doesn't let you. As a bonus, the motif of hypnosis interested me intensely.

Ann Patchett
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
This is my favorite read of 2016. The story begins at Franny Keating’s christening party. In a weird and inevitable moment, a guest at that party, Bert Cousins, kisses Franny’s mother when the two are alone in the baby’s room. So begins the entanglement of four parents and two sets of siblings that lasts more than 50 years. These relationships invite an interrogation of the meaning of family and power. Who has “full citizenship,” as Franny puts it?  Who decides? It's genius, and I loved it.

Curtis Sittenfeld
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
I really sink into Sittenfeld's writing, and this Pride and Prejudice re-boot felt like it was written especially for me. Liz Bennet is a 38 year-old, white feminist writer. She's picking up the pieces for her family, a broke-yet-upper/middle-class bunch, while simultaneously sparring with Fitzwilliam Darcy, a brain surgeon in a Cleveland hospital. Of course, I love Liz so, so much. I am, after all, the ideal demographic - a 38 year-old, white feminist wannabe writer who majored in English lit. I couldn't put this down - it was super fun and really well done. 

Colson Whitehead
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Whitehead's extraordinary work is on everybody's best list. Mine too! This is the story of Cora, a slave on the Randall Plantation in Georgia, who steals off toward freedom, as her mother did before her. She relies on the Underground Railroad, in this case an actual subway car and series of tunnels, to inch her way toward liberty. Whitehead is imaginative, skilled, and unrelentingly specific. Cora’s horror is our horror. Whitehead develops minor characters, too, assigning them both distinct and emblematic qualities that alternately bind readers in affinity and repel them. An important book about whiteness, blackness, and the enduring trauma of American slavery, I'll be thinking about this for years.

And here are the rest of this year's titles! Links go to full reviews (by me!) at Literary Quicksand.
Looking for an audio, middle grade/YA, or nonfiction pick from this year or either of the last two? All the lists are compiled HERE.

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