Monday, November 18, 2013

I am, therefore a read, write and teach.

You can hold your own in front of a crowd, while conveying a message that speaks to your soul as well as to your audience. You can connect with others better than some. No, you are not better, you are just better at this and that specifically.

You can write and take the written word and use it for good, only good, and not to hurt. The words you pen are like breaths taken from your own insides. They are part of you, they are your heart, your mind, your contribution to always commit to make the world a better place. What? How? Simple. By using them to do good, for good and only to convey messages of love, support, encouragement and even with a tiny bit of toughness, your words people listen to... What a change-agent one can be by using the written word to do good, not bad.

You ask questions. Your thrist for knowledge and you nourish the voice inside you that always, always kept nudging you for MORE (whatever that more was and is), you listen. You open the books and read.  Open the pages end embark on your own one ticket to Hogwarts, the Island of Misfit Toys, Avonlea or Avalon. You learn new words, spells, magic words that can cure and mend a broken heart. You soak up as much information you can.

Then you realize that you have also lived. You have lived here and there and gone through this and that. You have a story to tell. Will people listen? Well, I think depends on how you convey your message. Is your story similar to mine? Can your story help me understand my journey? Face challenges? Come to peace with events from the past...

When thoughts like these run through your mind constantly you can't help but wonder if all these questions are being answered, will they be answered, should they be? When? I'd like to think, yes of course, why not. What do you do with all of this? Yes, more questions.

Well, I'd like to take the bold approach and dare to answer the question, at least from my own perspective. What do I do with all of "this" that represents who I am and what I do? Yes, I do my job and I do it well, but I think I can sum it all up with a better plan. I teach.

I realized, what I was calling "presenting", after years of standing in front of a group telling stories about college and the adventures high school students could embark on by enrolling, was teaching. I was teaching how to apply for school, how to navigate a complex, often overwhelming process, how to ask questions. The eyes, staring back at me, sometimes in awe, more often in freight. I could only try to chisel through and make a compelling argument for a slight hint of  hope of getting through, and with some kind of hook, keep them interested.  Breakthrough!

Fast forward to a classroom full of boys, sixteen year old boys, to be exact.  When teaching To Kill A Mockingbird,  pride is the only word I can use to describe the excitment, genuine and thought provoking,  questions and arguments made by the boys.  "Teacher, they want to kill an innocent man, it's not right." Another student wrote a proposal arguingn that the novel become mandatory reading for 1st year law students to discuss race and ethics.

Another time I broke a little bit of the rules-oops, NOT!- and dared to introduce an American playwright, famous for riské semi - autobiographical work. My students got it, they appreciated the maturity and respect I expected from them. They saw literature from a different perspective, it was life, it was real. The author could have been any of them. They thanked me. Breath....

And so, to sum up this rather random reflection,  like the very question I asked my students, I ask... what's the point?  The point, my faithful, enablers of my wordy, but passionate, rambling, I am a teacher. I may not teach now, but I will. There are stories to tell,  minds to pick with the latest and greatest of thoughts, books to read, novels, papers, essays to write. I am a teacher. I teach about the ups and downs of the mystical world that is known as Academia. It is a magical land, whose habitants grow and develop with the assistance of creatures that push, push and push so hard, the residents of Academia lose balance on ocassion.  However, with that very challenging push, comes a cushy, comfy giant pillow of support. You can do this, we say! How great it is when indeed they can.

I teach... and I can't wait to prepare for the next opportunity to teach,  whenever that may come...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Last year's post on my forthcoming 38th birthday was pretty good, according to my readers, including quoting Carrie Bradshaw! "Your 30s are for the lessons" and boy, have I learned mine.

I have been 39 years old for almost a week now... My, how time flies. :)

Since the last year of the decade for yours truly to be known as a "thirtysomething" has kicked into gear I will write the obligatory, and hopefully, meaningful reflection. However, it will not without its fare share of mixed emotions as I think back at all the events of the year's past.

After nursing a few wounds that only those of us, that rare and unique species known as "phenomenal women, single mom's that can kick Wonder Woman' ass any day because we have been put down, emotionally abused and crushed, yet we find the inner strength to get OURSELVES up, by ourselves, for ourselves and our kids and dare to move on" understand, I realized one important lesson: there is life after "whatever."

For a minute there I felt the post turning sad and negative. Ummmm, NO! Negative thoughts, feelings, words, are not in my core. True, I'll have a bad day, we all do. We all have unfortunate close encounters of the nasty kind when we are faced with dealing with lovely folks that can only see ugly. Poor souls. Think about it, we are all tempted, sometimes stalked by loneliness, insecurity and sadness. So what... we are human, we feel. Bad comes with the good, and yes, good comes with the bad.

Well, shooooo, go away! We have one thing in our favor: choice. I know it's harder for some than others, but let's choose to pick our battles, our words, our actions. Boy, have I had to walk away from projectile vomiting (sorry for the visual! ;)) words expressing exactly what I am feeling when addressed in a hurtful, allegedly unintentional way. Haven't we all had to? I think, yes. Walking away is often the best way to put an end to "whatever"  and then consider for one moment the open canvas of possibilities in life after "whatever." I liked my odds! And you what, it starts today...

Today I woke up and after making the huge mistake of checking my email only to respond with a lough UGH upon reading a specific message, I said to myself: only Colbie Callait can help me this morning. I turned on Pandora and wouldn't you know it but "Think Good Thoughts" came on. It is a lovely song that should perhaps be played every morning for eternity. I closed my eyes and listened.

Today we admit the daily grind can be a pain in the ass, right? Universally, I believe that the best way to get through the "stuff" that may turn our skies from sunny to cloudy is to focus on something good. Let's keep it simple, folks, I am not planning to change your life with this entry.

Today, I smiled because my anti-wrinkle cream is working! Hey, for someone who is pushing 40 this is HUGE!! LOL

Today I smiled because I looked at my calendar and had a meeting to debrief strategies on ways to engage alumni in China--I know, I am a nerd, but this makes me happy!

Today I am excited because my son plays Geppetto in the local community center's rendition of Pinnocchio. Hey, that's a big role! This kid loves to ad lib, though. Who knows what may come out of Geppetto's mouth, but I can't wait! :)

Today, I heard a guitar strum over the phone played by a boy who makes me laugh!

Today, I give thanks for my family, who challenges me as much as it loves me, although I feel at times they love me a little too much. ;)

Today I pray for my friend, whose husband is very ill and they begin a very steep, uphill battle to "whatever." Let's keep those prayers coming, everyone.

Today, my wish for you all is that you do what so many are doing, pick and CHOOSE one little thing that makes you smile, that brings you joy. It will make TODAY even more special than any birthday you celebrate...for it's today, a regular today and not an excuse for "whatever." Every day is precious, make today count.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Nature calls...

I close my eyes... Crack, shush, whizzzzz, is what I hear. I am not doing justice to the sound of dusk as it comes comfortably accompanied by gusts of wind on a chilly October night. It is the eve of all Hallows, October 31, 2013, or as some of us classic movie geeks will refer to as “Neewollah.” Google 1956 films and you’ll get this trivia clue.
Sitting on the deck, outside a log cabin in the middle-Ohio hills, smelling the fire burning right behind me, yet waiting for the rain to cease so the bonfire outside can be lit, I am thankful. I am also remembering.
Winter of 1994 came with a bang.  During what was recorded as one of the coldest February’s in Dayton, this college sophomore, after surviving a heart-break, made a decision. For most of the summer I was going to be a camp counselor in the Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. Those who knew me wondered in bewilderment, for I had never gone to camp as a kid, nor was known as the “outdoorsy” type. Just ask my father or my aunt if you don’t believe me.  So, there I was with no real desire to “go home” to the beach, my family or friends. I wanted to do something different. 
Was I certified as a lifeguard? No.  Had I ever gone camping, overnight,in the woods? No. Would I have ever considered rock-climbing ? Do you really know me? :) Still, I said, yes.
Camp Horizons was a one hour drive from D.C., off highway 81. That summer I learned to really, truly, and clearly, listen to nature... Every morning, the early walk to the man building from the cabins allowed for the birds to sing to me. The sunshine peaking through the woods heating up the wet ground constantly reminded me to lighten up and be ok with wet toes. :)
Something happened to me that summer. I connected with God in a very spiritual way and it was all due to the beauty of nature I witnessed. The mountains, the lake, the trails, the stars at night painting the darkness with what only can be described as a Pollock type stroke. That summer I learned to appreciate being outside, to sleep by a fire, to stare at the sky...until I fell asleep.
On an unusually chilly July morning, the task at hand was to learn to climb a tree, go on a few ropes that connected tree branch to tree branch, so one could then climb onto a platform very high above us. Did I say I had to climb a tree??  Once on the platform I had to walk on the ropes, one foot in front of the next, so on and so forth. When I reached the next tree I had to climb to another platform and from then unhook my harness from the ropes to a zip line and let go... I zipped line my way to the bottom of the hill in the most exhilarating moment I can only describe as “I think I can fly!”
Summer ‘94 lead to summer ’95. I was a skilled counselor and instead of a 2 day hike, went on 4 and 5 day hikes. Our crew hiked, climbed rocks together, sang together and even hid from a black bear together. The kids loved it; adults even more! My fellow counselors, from near and far, became some of the most treasured friends I still keep in touch with.
Those summers in the Shenandoah Valley, in Harrisonburg, Virginia, after hiked part of the internationally known Appalachian Trail, I also learned to look at myself in a more natural way. T’was the first time I purposely wore no make-up for 2 months and actually said out loud words along the lines of “I don’t care how I look.” Now those of you who know me, understand that I do indeed care about how I look. I take care of myself, work out, and eat well- for the most part. However, the superficial “stress” of having to put “on a face,” a slab of make-up in order to look “better” or “prettier” was gone. I was cool with how I looked, with who I was.
Here’s the point of this entry: I had forgotten. So fifteen years ago, or so, I had a lovely, very close encounter of the nature kind, but I forgot all about it. I forgot how it felt. I forgot how that experience helped me a year later give a talk at a retreat for my friends and classmates. It was my first retreat talk and it was all about finding God in nature... how I found God in nature. How could I have forgotten?
Well, life happened. Careers happen, family happens and a city life happened with not much motivation to remember. For one that had a transformative experience, amnesia happened and I forgot it all...
Thanks to the nudge to explore again, to hike and to be in commune with the Divine Creator, suddenly, I remembered.
Last week I hiked to Old Man’s Cave, in Hocking Hills, Ohio. Or is it “the” Hocking Hills? I am not sure. All I know is that I couldn’t decide if the scenery was magnificent or majestic. Special, beautiful and well preserved it was. It was the last week in October and the fall foliage was at its peak. The reds, oranges, yellows were bright and stayed true to their form beating the browns in order to stick around a little longer. The greens are still out but only for a few more weeks before Old Man Winter comes to knock most of the color down, yet hopefully, bring us crisp, sunny, yet cold days were white snow covers all.
The falls broke silence as the water hit the rocks and splashed on the ground. The air was humid, yet we trekked along. Uphill, downhill, hiking along, the beauty of the hills was breathtaking. Thank you, I kept saying... thank you, I kept praying.
Our adventure came to a close when we exposed my 11 year old son to the great outdoors. Four hours of what we described as “hard core” hiking and the kid only said “on ward” with his walking stick, leading the way. He couldn’t have said it best: “Today was exhausting, but it was awesome!” Stopping once for a snack consisting of bananas, almonds, granola bars and crackers, this kid was a champion.
This entry is a love note to the hills, the trails and the trees we hugged, we have climbed and to the sky we have admired both in daylight and at night. It is for the bonfires and the smell of smoke on our clothes, in our hair (LOL!) and for the smore’s we still need to make!
I thank the heartbreak experienced in February of 1994, for it brought me to nature and it taught me how to make a steak and potato hobo meal in the fire. :)
This note is also in thanksgiving for the beauty of our land, whatever land you call yours, be it the ocean or the mountains. May we get out more often and literally take time to smell the flowers.

ADDENDUM: March, 2014. It's been 3 months since this post. I went hiking last Saturday. It was a gorgeous day and the kid and I savoured every minute of it. Lesson learned here is that I allowed these memories to disappear at the time when they seemed pointless in my life and no one respected they were mine. My memories, my experience and my life. I stress and invite others to take the time to remember... Remember a transformative experience, a summer job, a book you read, a movie that changed your life. Hold on to it. Don't forget it happened, especially if it mean so much and shaped who you are as a person, a faith-filled person as I continue to strive to be every day.