A long Week

At the end of my post from January 11, I mentioned that in the following week I’d post my version of an annotated bibliography of my favorite Neil Gaiman books. It has therefor been a long week, because right after that posting, I stepped into a space/time vortex and have only just emerged. I am alive, well, and relatively unscathed, sheepish for ignoring my blogging time, and happy to return to posting.

What have I been doing while not posting, you might wonder. The quick answer is that I haven’t been doing anything in particular – or at least, not anything different. At work, I experimented with fresh perspectives on educational relevance and switched up my lesson plans to allow for more kinesthetic learning opportunities. I tried and failed fantastically at letting my students use bottle flipping, one of their favorite pastimes, in a classwork activity. For those of you fortunate enough to have avoided this, I will describe: Take an un-full water bottle and flip it. If it lands upright, or even on its bottle top, then you win – nothing. Just joy, I guess. You will want to try at least five billion times to achieve this balancing act of purposeless awesomeness. Think back to a drinking game you may have played in college of cup flipping, but with no relay race and no adult beverages involved. Lots of noise, big screechy fun – it makes teachers miss the days of pen clicking.

I allowed my students to flip bottles for sentence work. If the bottle landed on its side, they were to write a declarative statement. If it landed upright, they could choose a complex or compound sentence, and if it landed on the bottle top, they wrote a compound-complex sentence. My purpose for this little activity of pain and suffering (for me) was to increase sentence fluency. At the end of each period, students volunteered (and by volunteered, I mean assigned) to clean up the spills, toss out the bottles, and reminded to never speak of this activity again. The kids said it was their favorite lesson from that week – and their quizzes reflected this. For me, two acetaminophen tablets and a 15 minute lie-down took care of the pain. Suffering for one’s art is not always a metaphor, I reminded myself. Plus, we now have those fun fidget spinners to contend with. Do I think they’re useful? Yes, if used appropriately. Do I think they bother the living snot out of fellow students and the occasional auditorially impacted teacher? Most definitely.

In the land of Alwaysliz, I paid taxes as further evidence that I am a breathing adult-like person. I read a whole truck-ton of books as I continue on my quest to read All The Things. I measured out my life in coffee spoons (thanks T.S. Eliot), though not sadly; contentedly grateful for the smaller rituals that make my life all mine.

Back to present day: I am relaxing at home while on my school’s May break. One of the many advantages of a year-round educational calendar is the interspersed week off while still maintaining instructional momentum. Less regression, more concept consolidation. Count me in. Additionally, I can get caught up on projects. Not cleaning-the-garage projects, a week isn’t long enough for that; nope, contentment-building projects like this, reading All The Things, and fresh air.

However, the original “next week’s” posting was supposed to be about Neil Gaiman, and I keep my commitments to myself, however long it takes to do so. I won’t annotate a bibliography of books by Gaiman; there are plenty already written by and about his work. I will simply relay why his work matters to me: he believes in words. Using words matters, and reading them matters, and working with them matters. What matters is that we remember that we can change infinities with words, create and devastate worlds with words, change political systems with words. I’m paraphrasing him poorly, but everything he has written, whether I’ve liked it personally or not, resonates with an appreciation of words. His word choice is no different than the words you and I use; he is just uniquely talented at presenting them. I am grateful for this every time I read something he’s written.  While I don’t know him personally, he appears to be unsnobbish, humble even, in his approach to language, reading, and writing. He writes with the same affection about ghost stories and romance novels as he does about fairy tales and journalism. I respect that. In fact, I celebrate the living daylights out of that.

Gaiman stated, “Prose fiction is something you build up from twenty-six letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world, and people it and look out through other eyes” (Why Our Future Depends on Libraries Reading and Daydreaming: The Reading Agency Lecture, 2013). Yep, twenty six letters and some odd punctuation marks and you too can change the world, or at least how you think about it. Woahhh.

Give yourself the gift of some Gaiman time if you haven’t already. Any of his works are wonderful. American Gods has premiered on the Starz network; read the dang book so you can compare and contrast in your noggin rather than let someone else’s vision inform you. Read Smoke and Mirrors or Trigger Warning if you prefer short stories and poetry interspersed with your regularly scheduled novel reading. Read Good Omens if you want a fresh perspective on the struggle between good and evil and why the line between both is a little vague. Read the Sandman series if you prefer graphic novels or comic books. Gaiman lives his literary life in the shadows between myth and reality, of ghost stories and real-life horror. Just read his work. Your brain and heart will thank you.

There you have it: from bottle flipping to taxes to a celebration of all that is Neil Gaiman. it’s been a long week (ahem), but a good one. Hope yours has been a celebration of the things that bring you joy as well.

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Joy

Do you remember when you were young and you would spin in a circle with your arms spread out, whirling and whirling until you dropped to the ground from the dizzies? You’d watch the clouds spin from your ground-level vantage point, if it didn’t make you too woozy. Essentially, you were self-inducing the same feeling you would later come to recognize as drunk. The point is, though, that you would spin in the circles for the simple joy of it. No need for someone to correct your technique or tell you that you were spinning wrong, there was only this moment when you played with gravity and gravity may have pulled you to the ground, but you still won. It was wondrous.

Then you “grew up,” stopped spinning because you realized that it gave you an upset stomach, or too closely reminded you of being drunk and nauseous. Other activities induced similar feelings of ‘glad to be in the moment’ for you: maybe it was spending time with friends, or spending alone time with a special someone, or reading a book, jumping from planes – whatever it was, you did this thing for the simple fact that it brought you joy.

Being joyful is a tricky proposition during adulthood because there’s so much that threatens it. How can a person be joyful when there’s so much pain? Joy isn’t a constant, or at least not for me, but it is there among the other emotions and deserves its nurturing too. We do ourselves a disservice when we refuse to allow ourselves that small respite from everything else we’re supposed to be doing to engage in the activities we love. I submit that our capacity for joy is one of the few things that makes life bearable. It isn’t money, or 500 skamillion friends, or an overabundance of things to do: it’s an appreciation of the moment, a connection to the very things that make us glad to be hanging around on this planet in the first place.

I am serious about protecting my own joy. This is an awkward time of year for many people, and definitely for me. I don’t handle conflicting demands on my time very well and instead usually opt to behave in a zombielike fashion because it’s easier that way. That is until this year when I promised myself I’d simplify. So far, and I admit it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, I’m doing well at cutting the excess out from the to-do list so that I can enjoy myself (go figure).

One of the most enjoyable activities for me this time of year is sending holiday greetings. Even though I’m killing trees and spending money on postage, I like to send a happy hello to another person that they can hold in their hands – like a 49 cent hug, I suppose. I know email is quicker and the graphics on my social media are all cute and what-not, but I haven’t put my hand to pen to cardstock so it doesn’t give me the same happy feeling that getting paper cuts on my tongue from licking envelopes does. That’s my unapologetic nod to doing a thing that makes me happy.

The other nod is that I love movies. On the big screen, popcorn beside the point. I love hanging out in an alternate reality for a length of time so that I can feel the feels without any sense of responsibility for them or any need to make them better. It’s the same reason I like to read, but my more immediate circle of friends understands the reading more than the movies. Why would I love to go spend too much money for a couple hours of escapism? Well, because it’s fun. The movie I saw yesterday, for its entire 130 minutes, momentarily filled a place in that part of me that still believes there is no problem that can’t be solved as long as we have hope. I left the theater with the same feeling I had when I used to whirl around in circles until I fell: a little woozy, but joyous.

As a warm-up with hopeful carryover beyond the New Year, I encourage us all to engage in the activities that bring us joy. They aren’t less important than our other commitments; that’s like saying our commitments to other things are more important than our commitment to our own health. That said, with all movie-going, card-sending joy in my heart, I encourage you to do the things that bring you joy. If it’s spending time with people, go do it. If it’s sitting around the house eating Cheetos, bring extra napkins to wipe that orange-y goodness off your fingers. If it’s writing your story, or telling your truth, or walking the dogs, go. You deserve the joy.

My Quest to Cure Procrastination

As an expert task avoider, I find procrastination to be particularly appealing. Why do today what I can put off until tomorrow, or until the night before a project is due? As someone who meets her deadlines, I can rationalize the crap out of finishing projects right on time and not a moment too soon. They’re turned in after all, aren’t they? All I suffer is lack of sleep and last-minute anxiety, while the reward is that I get to spend countless hours whiling my time away. Recently, however, I began to realize that I like sleep. It helps me feel energized, reduces under eye puffiness, improves my mood – and it’s free. I figure that my pursuit of wisdom should reasonably include regular rest, so I have targeted my task avoidant ways as something I could easily fix to enjoy much more of this sleep stuff. I begin by targeting the ways I procrastinate:

Procrastination by pretense of productivity: This is the area of procrastination at which I excel. I have been attempting to avoid the last minute freak out that accompanies the start of a school year by planning my lessons now and putting them in a spiffy, organized fashion complete with multimedia supports and collaboration with other classes. After a highly productive morning of working out at the gym followed by a nutritious breakfast, I sat my smug little self down at the computer today to Plan the Lessons. I envisioned them as award-winning educational plans of awesomeness that allow for differentiation, accommodation, and invigoration. This lasted about five minutes before I found new ways to decorate the classroom, which led me to new ways to decorate the house, which resulted in new ways to organize my closets, which led to capsule wardrobe ideas. Oopsie.

Procrastination by collaboration: This is where I spend a truck ton of time brainstorming with my friends. We become energized, we feel inspired, we’re ready to take on our jobs with vigor – and then when I get home, I haven’t written anything down. One of my favorite collaborative experiences was when I worked as a resource teacher. I met with my colleague/friend and after three hours of solving all the challenges and virtues of being kick-ass teachers, we had a fantastic mind map. Did I use it? I would love to tell you I did, but nope. Did we have a great time together, which made working together a more cohesive and rewarding experience? Absolutely.

Procrastination by hiding: This is where I either feel overwhelmed by the task at hand or behave as though the task will go away if I ignore it. Planned ignoring sometimes works as a behavior management strategy, but it does not work at all for projects. One of the stages of any project I undertake is always the “I will never do this very well” self-defeatist stage – until the project has to be complete and I finish it anyway. I am deadline driven, so I usually need an absolute deadline to get the creative, forward-thinking juices flowing. Little deadlines along the way with rewards for me don’t work. I will give myself those rewards whether or not I’ve met the benchmarks. I am not externally motivated, so this method may be delicious (my rewards are usually edible), but not productive.

What’s a procrastinator to do? After identifying my three biggest procrastination problems, I am tackling them step by step. I am going to set timers so that for every 20 minutes of focused planning, I will give myself 10 minutes of mindless YouTube viewing or Facebook checking – still with the timer, because otherwise that reward time is going to seep into dinner time. It’s happened before, so I’m ready. When collaborating, I will again limit the time I spend on visiting. I already know this is only going to work if a project is due. If one isn’t due, as is the case at the moment, I will make sure to jot down ideas for later and enjoy the extended chat time with friends. Finally, I will just have to remind myself that peek-a-boo stopped working years ago. The projects don’t go away simply because I don’t want to look at them. In this area, I acknowledge the reality of projects and push up my shirt sleeves to get busy. The reward for all this adult-y behavior? I get to go to bed on time. Well, that will be the reward when the school year starts again. For now, the reward is an organized closet, time spent with friends, and educationally majestic pins on Pinterest. Lesson plans? Ummm, not yet.

30 Days of Blogging–Goal Achieved!

After a month of blogging for the sheer joy of sharing my passing, quirky thoughts with people, I pause to celebrate my self-assigned challenge of posting every day for 30 days, fully well realizing this particular project isn’t complete. I met the construct of the assignment I gave myself, and in so doing, I saw what I care most about.

For instance, in everything I decided to consider, so many more ponderous ideas flitted around my noggin. There is a huge part of me that would have commented on the whole Donald Trump running for President scenario, but I haven’t written about train wrecks yet, so I won’t start now. You’re welcome. I also realized that I type almost the exact opposite of what worries or concerns me on a particular day. For those of us who read as a form of escape, the same is true for those of us who like to entertain and inform. I don’t type specifically about the issues pressing most on my heart and in my mind largely because I can’t address the larger issues of my life’s focus in fewer than 1,000 words. There’s no particular word count limit to what I produce, but I have considered my blog a drive-by along the path of someone’s day, not a sit-down experience. I may change that soon.

I have learned that verb tense switching is annoying and also runs amok on my pages, the byproduct of the fact that I live in the present with nods to future and past imperfect (subjunctive because it is, after all, myself I write about, and perfection isn’t the motif of my days). Time is a nebulous concept to me, as evidenced by the boxes I sorted through recently. If my children’s graduation programs can sit in the same box as their preschool artwork, believe me that I have no trouble with the notion that past, present, and future are all hanging out in my noggin clamoring for representation on the page.

Carving out a spot of time to participate in something I love, it turns out, is part of the USRDA for self-actualization. I am pretty sure my husband feels the same rejuvenation after working on the truck – even when the truck isn’t cooperating. My words haven’t always run out of my brain into my fingertips, as can be seen in the range of topics I write about. There was one night I almost wrote about what I had for dinner a la the YouTube “What I ate today” genre, but I stopped myself because my fingers refused to type something quite that idiotic.

Here I sit, a few hours before I go to vote because, wow, do we all need to engage in the democratic process this year. I may go back to posting once a week, I may continue to post more. Either way, I am grateful that I decided to see what would happen if I wrote every day.

Sound of Silence

The Simon and Garfunkel rendition of “Sound of Silence” (1964) recently got a remake. Performed by the Chicago-originated band Disturbed, this is no folk-song version. I like the original, but I like this version more: it is raw, angry, apocryphal in tone and delivery. I heard it for the first time today as I was driving home from work. I am a person who responds viscerally to music, and when the music is combined with lyrics that powerful, I tend to cry. Today, I pulled over so I could process what I’d heard.

“Sound of Silence” doesn’t make me nostalgic, exactly; though as music will, I am reminded of what I was doing when I heard the song the first time. My friend and I performed this song in our high school talent show. We both dressed in black, wanting to represent the deep and ponderous nature of the song. Did we really take ourselves that seriously? No, but we pretended that we did. The performance was fine, I suppose, insofar as we didn’t get tomatoes thrown at us (do people actually do that?).

Today, I was reminded that music communicates in ways that other art forms do not. I can be astounded by a work of art, impressed with the sheer physical nature of dance, touched deeply by words, or any combination of grateful and humbling adjectives to describe any art form’s impression on my psyche. Music reaches somewhere else, though. It creates almost a form of synesthesia in which I feel the music (like dancing) and see an image (like art or writing) – only different. I am obviously not a music critic or I could describe this more effectively, but essentially Disturbed sang this song in a way that woke me up from my daily grind and whacked me upside the head, in a good way.

Of course, as a wordy person, I listened to the lyrics. The yelling delivery of the line “But my words like silent raindrops fell” exposes the contrast between what people say and what we mean. My favorite lyric: “Silence like a cancer grows.” Taken out of the context of the song, I was reminded of what tends to cause people to misunderstand each other: silence, or at the very least, not very good communication.

In any case, I am grateful to the coincidence that had me tuning into that particular station on the radio. This is why I love music. It’s impressive how changing tone or instrumentation can impact the overall meaning of a song. Wow. Just wow.

Ten options for when the creative juices have congealed

It happens. The creative juices are flowing, only to stop midstream, sputter, and evaporate. What we’re left with is something too horrifying to contemplate: no idea what to do. Fear not, creators, thinkers, dreamers, and planners, here are some ways to rejuvenate your creativity mojo:

  1. Make a list of all the people, living or dead, you would love to meet. Plan a dinner party for them, complete with confetti and streamers. It’s your daydream so live it up you-style.
  2. Make a list of all the places you would like to visit. Call a travel agent or go online and price at least one of them.
  3. Write your speech for the Ted Talk you’re going to give. Maybe you would like to share the secret to darning socks, comment on how all your best ideas happen when you’re startled awake at 3:00 am, ponder how to channel the energy of toddlers into an alternative fuel source.
  4. Decide who is going to play you in the movie of your life. You’ve had wonderful adventures, so you need to start casting your movie now, before you’re too famous.
  5. Rearrange your silverware drawers. Maybe the forks, spoons, and knives don’t want to live all separated like that and you’re just being mean. Scramble those utensils together and see what masterpiece you create.
  6. Decide to exercise. Get your gear on, then decide not to go after all.
  7. Plan a seven-course meal. Feel smug at how you’re saving all kinds of calories by not actually eating this seven-course meal.
  8. Write a haiku about your favorite teacher.
  9. Rearrange your pantry by colors of the rainbow. Or your books. Or your rainbow collection.
  10. Stand on your head. If you can do it, feel my jealousy across the internet.

Notice I did not type one single thing about doing housework. You are suffering from a creativity stall, not a life-altering catastrophe. Unless you have a great, creative idea about how to use the dust bunnies to make a blanket …