Tuesday, July 27, 2010

anything but nothing...

I just finished the novel Iodine by Haven Kimmel.  I liked it very much and at one point toward the end of the book, Kimmel writes about the interesting differences in relationships between fathers and sons and mothers and daughters.  She writes, “At some point a father is expected to say to his son, Here is the key to the kingdom, and hand it over.  But mothers?  They say, Here is the key to your catastrophe, and they keep it on their key ring as a sign, nestled among the spare change, the linty gum, and the used Kleenex at the bottom of their decaying bags.”
This comment about the dynamic between mothers and daughters struck me probably more deeply this week than it would have in the past.  This week my mother was put into an assisted living facility.  She is 65 years old and has some sort of dementia.  No one seems all that sure of her diagnoses, but she is no longer able to care for herself in the ways deemed fit for independent living. 
I live nine hours away from my mother.  I don’t have a particularly good relationship with her to begin with.  This week has been difficult because I don’t know what to feel.  At all…not a clue.  Kimmel’s fascinating commentary on the peculiar relationship between mothers and daughters has left me numb.  Silent.  Pondering.  As much as my mother and I released our connection years and years ago – maybe even at my birth? I still can’t seem to let go of the nagging feeling that she is indeed the woman who birthed me, so, I should feel something more about this situation. Right? 
I do feel sad.  Sad for her loss of freedom that she no doubt feels in this situation.  Sad for her that she is likely 20 years younger than most of the other residents at the facility.  Sad that I don’t know the right thing to say.  Sad that I don’t know if there is a right thing to say.  I feel sad that my hands are her hands, my face and my mannerisms are hers…I see bits of her when I look into any mirror.  I hear her voice when I speak.  But I am not my mother.  And other than those eerie characteristics, I feel nothing. 
I remember literally digging to the bottom of my mother’s purse as a child.  I can still smell the lingering scent of cinnamon gum.  I can still see the dust from old Kleenex surrounding everything in that space. I know this is not really what Kimmel meant, but I understand the message she is trying to convey in her writing.  Mothers have a way of letting go, but not.  Of wanting their girls to become women, but also to not stray too far from the example they were given.  This week I feel like I have to break away from the example I was given in order to see more clearly and to feel…something.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

an ode to dance...

So, my 35-year-old, post-baby body doesn’t probably show it, but I used to be a dancer.  Not that kind of dancer, silly.  I started dance classes when I was 3 and I took classes several times a week until I was at least 18.  I took tap, ballet, jazz and what apparently is now known as contemporary.  I danced until my feet hurt and I had back problems and my hips began to snap, crackle and pop all on their own.  After I quit classes, I taught dance (mostly tap) for about 10 years.  Dance.  It was part of me. I loved it. I still do, although years of wear and tear on my body have resulted in my not being able to take classes or even try to do the things I used to do. 
I feel like I have to live vicariously through other dancers.  Which is why I’ve grown to love So You Think You Can Dance.  I have to be honest. I refused to watch the show for the first few seasons it was on TV.  Really, I was just so frustrated with my aging, creaky old body that I didn’t want to see young, vibrant dancers at the beginning of their careers heat up the stage and make me feel like shit.  I’m serious, and yes, I’m that jealous of people I don’t even know.  But through the years, I’ve grown to really love and respect what that show is doing for the dance world.  I love the amazing choreography, and how the program is willing to give choreography to former dancers on the show – what a way to channel amazing talent!
When I was probably 11 years old, I saw the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater perform Revelations.  I will never forget the way the silk tapestry moved across the stage during “Wade in the Water” and I remember watching the late Gary DeLoatch perform “I Wanna be Ready.”  During the intermission, my sister and I snuck up to the side orchestra box at the Folly Theater to get an up close look at Mr. Alvin Ailey himself.  This was the defining moment of dance for me. I knew at that very moment that I wanted to dance, and that it wasn’t something that just interested me – it was in the very fibers of my being.  Later, as a dancer, I participated in some fantastically terrible competitions, traveled throughout the US and to Seville, Spain in 1992 to dance at the World’s Fair, and fought tooth and nail with my former boss to prove that gymnasts must also have a dance background – a fight I would not win in the end.
Years later, I now live with constant pain from deteriorating discs in my lower back.  I exercise irregularly, in tiny spurts, a process that both aggravates and annoys me to no end.  I do yoga when I can because it’s the only way to gain balance and to center myself without excruciating pain.  I try to explain this to people who knew me as a dancer and they just don’t get it. I don’t understand it myself, it’s like my spine has failed me.  And it sounds ridiculous, but I absolutely adore watching those kids dance each week on TV.  It makes me remember why I loved choreography.  I remember why I loved being on stage.  But mostly I remember why I was touched by dance in the first place – how the graceful, wonderful movements of the human body can inspire even those of us who can no longer move like that. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

teaching myself...

I have been planning to write about this for a while, but have been trying to get into the swing of things since my summer really just started this week. I was lucky enough to be a part of the Greater Kansas City Writing Project’s Summer Institute this year and I spent the past four weeks with about 25 other teachers from all over this city reading, writing, talking and reflecting.  It was hands down the most phenomenal continuing education or professional development opportunity I’ve ever had and I’m so glad that I was able to work with such amazing people, even for just a short time.  I was accepted to the SI on the basis of my being an early childhood (preschool) teacher.  However, I honestly thought that what I would learn in this experience would be useful for me down the road when I finish my certification and am in my own high school English classroom.  That could not have been further from the truth.
In essence, I was given four weeks to revitalize my teaching spirit, to reflect on all the ways I really love what I do right now – not what I might do down the road.  And, I was validated on so many levels as an early childhood educator.  I thought I might not have much to bring to the table every day – we deal with SUCH different classroom dynamics – at least I thought we did!  It turns out that much of what I do is happening in classrooms all over the city, and I assume all over the country.   The biggest difference is that I have these kiddos at the beginning of their educational journey, and they might be a little bit smaller!  I was immediately made to feel at home, and my thoughts and inquiry were supported and validated by the other fellows.
I made the decision in the past four weeks to quit my education classes and spend one full year focusing on what I’m doing right now.  I feel like I owe it to myself and to my employer to give as much of myself as possible this year – to really reflect on why I teach these little people and how much I really affect their lives.  I simply never saw myself as a preschool teacher for the long haul…all that money spent on my English degree? Where would I use it? The answer became quite clear throughout these weeks: I am using it, and I can use it in so many ways that I’ve never explored in detail.  I’m really excited to not have to think about papers, reading books other people have assigned me, and just being gone several nights a week from my family.  I’m anxious to focus my energy on my preschool classroom in a way I’ve not been willing or able to in the past few years.  I feel like this is really a new beginning for me in many ways.
I honestly cannot say enough how thrilled I am to have had the SI experience.  I got to know a fantastic bunch of funny, smart, motivated teachers, teachers who give me hope that our schools have promise and a bright, bright future.  It made me realize that too often we overlook the people who are doing great things just to focus on what a mess the system has become. 

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Pushing against these four walls.
Screaming. Screaming. screaming.
In my head.
And then. Then. Why not?
Laughter outside the windows…
Music permeating the walls -
Boys night. 3am.
Boys morning?
Beer bottles. High fives. Chuck Taylors and red t-shirts.
Boys night with no boys. Only men.
Men. Boys. Boys. Men. Men with thinning hair. Big ears. Fat thumbs.
Shattered dreams and wandering eyes.
I watch, squinting, between closed blinds. Dark room. Sleeping family.
Hooray for boys! Men. Boys.
I wonder about the conversation. What they are laughing about?
What? Who?
Oh yes...voyeurism.
High fives. Red t-shirts.
His son, dead…
Not in on the joke.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

when death comes

We spent time today at the GKCWP talking about teaching and poetry with Glenn North, the poet in residence at the American Jazz Museum here in Kansas City.  Glenn was amazing and a wealth of great information.  He had us do a writing prompt based on the poem "When Death Comes" by Mary Oliver.  Here's what I wrote:

when death comes like a strong wind
when death comes like a headache, dull and fuzzy and only slightly uncomfortable
when death comes like being carried out to sea with the undertow
I want to step through the door full of clarity.  I want to see clearly for the first time things that I’ve questioned all my life
and therefore I look upon everything as catalyst for that journey.  where the reasons for my actions are clear and the actions themselves are meaningful, if only to myself
and I think of each life as remarkable. alone. sort of like realizing at last that I’ll never really know what’s going on in your head
and each body as a vehicle. a machine. a treasure chest.
when it’s over I want to say, “that was worth every single day”
when it’s over I don’t ever want to wonder what I missed
I don’t want to end up with regret.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

walking out

I shed the clothing.
The “I don’t want to lose me and look like a mom” shoes.
The ill fitting, post-children skin that sometimes feels like wearing chewing gum that was blown into a bubble, popped and then stuffed back into my jeans.
That skin, often bruised from playing.
Hands rough from washing. Loving. Washing.
Walk away from obligation
Walk away from guilt
Walk away from all that I’ve become.
“They” would see the mess of me, no longer hidden by all that…stuff
Scattered clothes, scattered letters, scattered thoughts
“They” would see bad back, achy knees, wishful thinking, a woman who desperately needs attention…but not that kind.
“They” would see the heart full of funny, magical, little girl love. That heart, its beating made bright and vibrant by those two, often needing reflection
“They” would see that there isn’t much of me that is hidden beneath that skin – my journey is an open book.
The “I shoulds”
The “I wants”
Left behind: the confusion that changes shape and color like the remnants in a glass of red wine; sitting in the sink, filling with water, turning that wonderful shade of blue gray and then fading completely
Free of these things, I peek into windows
Listen to conversations
Find answers to all the questions without real answers
Is she really crazy?
How much does she really know?
Does he have another life? Ulterior motives?
Could I have prevented this?
Like eyes blinking clear of the haze of sleep.
Free of these things, I see.