Category: lists (page 1 of 3)

The Importance of Unimportant Things

As I approached the end of a couple of weeks of blessed school vacations, when the most I had to accomplish in a day was to drive a kid to the skating rink or wash a load of clothes, I started thinking about what I’d need to do every day once school restarted and I went back to work every day.

It was a lot of thinking.

About a bunch of unimportant things.

So I started listing out, in my mind, what the things were that I absolutely needed to do every day. I was a little surprised at what my mind came up with.

sleep
eat
drink water
exercise
brush and floss
work
make meals
create something
worship
meditate
show love

Really? That’s not too bad.

sleep – I’m acually really good at this one. I feel strongly about it for me and for everyone. I’m a little bossy about it for my kids, and they roll their eyes at me and say, “Yes, Mother.” Then they stay up late and make memories and I am okay with it.
eat – This is a lifelong battle of dependence, desire, and moderation. I’m getting there.
drink water – I’m pretty good at this, too, but teaching puts some limits on when and how often and how much. But I believe in it, and I like it. So I do it.
exercise – If the FitBit doesn’t read 10,000 steps by bedtime, I’m not doing the job so well. But I generally feel the need for more than that. I like it. I like to walk. I feel good about it. I live in the prettiest place ever. And I think it’s time to stop making excuses about my knees and my shape and just go do some more vigorous kinds of working out. It doesn’t have to take a whole lot of time. But I want to be strong.
brush and floss – Right? RIGHT? But hey – it’s minutes out of the day, so it goes on the list.
work – I usually show up at 7 and come home between 3:30 and 4. I do my best to get all the things that need to be done inside work hours. I rarely bring it home. I am well aware that makes me a less amazing teacher than those who spend all the hours doing all the work. I’m okay with that.
make meals – Most of the people in my house are capable of this one, but since I buy the foods, I should be the one to prepare them. It makes sense.
create something – When this one appeared on the list, I felt a little surprise. I kind of love that this dropped into my mind. What shows that my little life is full of meaning? Often it’s the things I create. Even if they disappear right after I make them. Do you know Buddha Board? It’s an exercise in creating and then letting go. Kind of like making dinner. But more beautiful. Sometimes.
worship –  I make time every day for praying and studying. It matters to me. Sometimes as insurance, sometimes as joy-making.
meditate – This is one I am trying to improve. I have a brilliant friend who has a lovely, thorough, and meaningful meditation practice. I want to combine some of that with daily yoga – for balance and strength.
show love – I need time in every day to show the people I love that I value them. I fear this is the one that most likely gets bumped to the last available minutes, when a quick conversation has to replace quality heart-sharing. I don’t want that. I want to do better.

As it turns out, all those seemingly unimportant things are actually pretty crucial parts of my world. I seek to elevate them (yeah, even the flossing) to levels of “This brings me joy and strength.” That’s the plan.

Eavesdropping — A Dialog-Writing Exercise

So yesterday in my Novel Writing class, I sent the kids into the commons for the last 20  minutes of class, which happens to correspond with the lunch they don’t have. The commons was full of teenage humans. I instructed mine to sit down somewhere and start eavesdropping. They were to write down random lines of dialog that they heard people say. They turned in their 5 favorite lines. I laughed a lot. Their overheard lines were weird. Funny. Awesome.

Today I had them pick their favorite one or two and put them up on the board. I had made columns for them to place the lines in, and after they’d all put up their best lines, I revealed the  topics heading each column. So now there are 5 or more lines of dialog – totally unrelated – under each of the following topics: Song Lyrics, Polygraph Machine, Job Interview, Explain Earth to the Aliens, Break-up, Babysitter Report, Newspaper Interview, and Love Letter. Now they’re furiously writing scenes that use at least one of the lines in whatever category it fell. I love watching them grin while they’re working.

Here are some of the overheard lines:

“It’s more than just a hat.”
“I’ve been drinking your blood and tears.”
“No. He doesn’t want them on because of his bug bites.”
“She’s literally like the spawn of Satan.”
“Babe. He doesn’t like the shirt.”
“Do you want your socks on?”
“I’m the whitest white girl here.”
“I seriously almost hit someone in the parking lot.”
“There was a guy who shipped two whales to Utah and kept them.”
“It’s free real estate.”
“Don’t write that down.”
“There’s a drink called the Hissy Fit?”
“Get out a marker and write YES on the goldfish.”
“He underwent intensive psychotherapy.”
“Something magical is about to happen.”
“Just buy a hose, you freak!”
“My mom was like, ‘Did you put on makeup? You know there’s guy makeup, right?'”

Clever little eavesdroppers. I can’t wait to see what they’ve made from their spoils.

Open Letter to My Little Girl on Starting High School This Week

You’re doing it. High school. So, natch, I’m doing it – passing out advice. It’s more a list than a letter. Because you’re a busy girl and you’ve got places to go. Here are Things I Know about you starting high school. Ready?

1. Sometimes people are mean.

2. (This is WAY more important than #1) More people will be amazing, kind, and supportive than will be mean. But they might do it more quietly. Look for the amazing. Look for the kind. Point it out (to yourself or to someone else) and it will get louder. Make it louder – make it roar.

3. You are beautiful. This is more a “nice” thing than a “crucial” thing, but it’s something you’ll probably forget, and I don’t want you to forget it.

4. You are good company. People love to be around you.

5. You are capable of doing hard work, and you are capable of succeeding in all your efforts.

6. It was a Very Good Idea to join a team. Join one more. Be part of at least two things. Let those two things be part of you.

7. I pray for you every single day before you get to school. Look around. See those other kids? Someone is praying for them, too, even if it’s only me.

8. Hold on to your confidence. Some days it will get a little raggedy. I can help shine it up for you, but it’s your job to carry it. Always.

9. Never be ashamed of being a nerd.

10. You can have it all. You may not be able to have it all at once, but you can have it.

11. People will look at you. Assume they’re looking because they want to be your friend. This will not always be the case, but it’s okay to be wrong now and then.

12. You won’t regret the things you do that are motivated by kindness and love.

13. You know that we don’t live in a particularly culturally diverse place, but seek out the diversity and celebrate it.

14. You’ll get hurt. (You’ll get better.)

15. Embarrassing things happen. Laughing is first aid for the wounds of embarrassment. It won’t erase the embarrassing thing, but it might save your life.

16. Eye makeup? A little bit goes a long way. You know.

17. Eat breakfast. Eat lunch. Lots of plants. A little protein. Come home and have dinner at the table.

18. Everyone is going through something. Everyone. Imagine that written over every head (kid and adult) in the building and you’ll be more empathetic. It’s always good for us to be more empathetic.

19. It’s Human Teenage Nature to assume the world revolves around you. It’s not accurate, but it’s natural.

20. I will always get excited with you when The Boy asks for your number, or sends you a vague text, or wants you to go to the dance. I will always take your side when The Boy acts like an idiot. But remember the rules. They are your protection.

21. You are stronger than you think you are.

22. Sing something every day. In the shower, in guitar class, somewhere.

23. Keep reading. You have time.

24. I’m right in the middle of the English hall if you need me.

25. There are hundreds (HUNDREDS) of people I love in that building. There is no one I love more than you.

Capturing the Best Stories

Tonight we have a ladies’ night Literacy activity. We’ve all been instructed to bring a used book to exchange. As obedient as I generally am, I couldn’t do it. I had to go out and buy a new copy of the book I’m exchanging. Partly because I can’t give up my original copy… okay, so Totally because I can’t give up my original copy. I love this book – not just the words, but the pages and the bends and the marks on the paper and the smell and all of it.

I’m “exchanging” Dodie Smith’s I CAPTURE THE CASTLE because I love it so, so much. And because it’s unlikely to be stir-y. I don’t want to cause any stirs tonight. I’ve wrapped it in red paper and a raffia bow. The red paper now has my handwritten favorite quotes (from the novel) all over it, and if I didn’t have to (I totally don’t have to) hand it over, I’d keep it because it looks lovely.

Quotes like these:

“Noble deeds and hot baths are the best cures for depression.”

“How I wish I lived in a Jane Austen novel!”

“Perhaps watching someone you love suffer can teach you even more than suffering yourself.”

“Contemplation seems to be about the only luxury that costs nothing.”

“No bathroom on earth will make up for marrying a bearded man you hate.”

“Truthfulness so often goes with ruthlessness.”

“I have noticed that rooms which are extra clean feel extra cold.”

“Oh, comfortable cocoa!”

“Miserable people cannot afford to dislike each other.”

“Do Americans kiss each other all the time?”

and

“Perhaps if I make myself write I shall find out what is wrong with me.”

The favorite one is about our main character learning to cook – but it didn’t really go with the others. So I didn’t add it there. But here it is for posterity and whatnot:

“I scrubbed some rather dirty-looking chops with soap which proved very lingering, and I did not take certain things out of a chicken that I ought to have done.” (I know, right?)

I Wish I’d Never (a short list)

* I wish I’d never quit piano lessons. This is showing itself in a near-daily battle with the 13-year-old over practicing. She wants to quit, and I don’t want her to have this same regret. So we grumble at each other over the dusty little spinet.
* I wish I’d never said mean things about my mom. I didn’t mean them, but it’s too late for me to tell her that. They weren’t all that different from the things my girls say about me, probably, and most likely they were milder. But I really didn’t mean them. And I’m sorry.
* I wish I’d never bought clothes just because the price was good. I wish I’d been more likely to buy something excellent than to check tags before I decided whether I liked something or not.
* I wish I’d never liked butter.
* I wish I’d never stopped doing those triceps exercises I did when I was 34. I did them every day until I stopped doing them at all, and now look at the state of these arms. Oy.
* I wish I’d never been such a chicken about boys. In particular, about C when I was a freshman in college. He was charming and nice and witty and cute and, by all ordinary signals, interested (at least that one afternoon when I thought I’d better do something other than go out with him when he asked – because [surprise!] he’d never asked again). My fear of being thought a tramp, a brazen hussy, a … oh, let’s be real. My fear of being rejected kept me out of a whole lot of possibly awesome situations.
* I wish I’d never said out loud how I felt about P. Now every time I’m in a room with her, I just get that same icky feeling of being annoyed and disgusted and sad that things are the way they are. If I’d kept that opinion locked safely inside my head, I could pretend I’d never felt annoyed. Or disgusted. Or sad. And then maybe I wouldn’t feel those things at all. Why is it that once it’s said, it’s practically written in stone?
* I wish I’d never stopped the habit of writing every day. It’s hard, these days, to find enough time to write the things I want to say. To carve out the time to enter a story and make things happen, characters feel things, plots go awry. I miss it, not every day, but on the days I try to do it and it’s like using atrophied muscles.
* I wish I’d never gotten into the habit of negative self-talk. How do you unhear your own voice in your head? I wish I’d always been kind to myself. Most days I deserve that, but rarely do I get it.
* I wish I’d never been hesitant to say nice things. I am still hesitant, sometimes – not that I’m shy, but I worry that nice things will be misinterpreted. Sometimes those things happen. But really? To be thought too nice? That might be the right kind of misinterpretation after all.

Creative Writing Class

It’s kind of unfair to say, after only a week in school, that I have the most brilliant students in the history of high school, but guys. I kid you not. I have them.

Today in Creative Writing, their journal prompt was this quote from Publilius Syrus (whoever that is) – “The pain of the mind is worse than the pain of the body.” The scribbling lasted minutes and minutes, and when I finally broke them off from writing about it, I asked them if anyone had genius thoughts on the matter. Guess what. THEY DID. And they shared for a really long time (in High School Hours*). Then, when they’d said all the things they wanted to say (and some of them don’t want to say anything at all, and since it’s the first week of school, I accept that), I read them a line I’d written – detailing some of the kinds of Mind Pain we might recognize. Then I asked them to play Thesaurus with me, which is a game I made up and wrote into a work-in-progress novel. Pretty much this class of 40 excels at this game. Here is our list, written up on the whiteboard in old-school whiteboard marker because I’m not yet proficient at Smart Board-ish Technology.

The List of Mind Pain (in no particular order)

fear, terror, anticipation, worry, embarrassment, loneliness, isolation, desperation, regret, shame, awkwardness, disappointment, failure, anxiety, insecurity, distress, nostalgia, despair, rejection, melancholy, insult, grief, desire, longing, frustration, annihilation, pathetic-ness, oblivion, rage, insignificance, confusion, sorrow, remembrance, powerlessness, emptiness, jealousy, worthlessness, aggravation, yearning, confinement, helplessness, hopelessness, deprivation, broken-ness, agony, famished-ness, degradation, surrendering, bein crushed, misery, being lost, ruthlessness, deflation, resentment, defeat, betrayal, guilt, envy, apathy

I took a picture of the board, because it pleased me SO MUCH that I had such great response.

Now there’s a gorgeous symphony of clicking and clacking as they take their writing minutes by storm. Some write on paper, which I totally support – I keep telling them there’s a different piece of their brain engaged with the hand-writing business. I’m all over them engaging the Whole Brains. Some of them stare out the windows. I don’t stop them (yet). Some of them may be writing “I DON’T HAVE ANYTHING TO SAY” over and over (but I kind of doubt it, today).

So maybe I can’t clock a thing like this, but I’m pretty sure my students are the most inspired writers in all the world.

____

* High School Hours are like Dog Years or something. A few moments can feel like a freaking eternity, is what I”m saying.

Happy Making

Here are things that make me happy.

My Husband, he whom I adore, has decided he will love 30 Rock. Oh, the joy. “I want to go to there.”

My Kid 1 came home for hours and hours on Saturday. We loved all over her.

I bought a pair of pants. Stretchy, skinny ones. They are black, and Kid 3 thinks I look “sick” which is, as you undoubtedly know, a very good thing.

For two days in a row, we ate our dinner meal before 2:00 pm. Where in the world could I live where that could be standard? I want to go to there.

Curel hand lotion. It’s fixing the nasties on my poor itchy fingers. “Ultra Healing” is where-it’s-at, yo.

School. I like it. Students are clever and bright and lovely. Work is happening.

Online university English class. I try to like it, even when I have 100-page reading assignments per assignment (which I really want to get to daily, but NO CHANCE), but what’s happy-making is that I am learning fine things (skewed toward revisionist historical theorizing, but fine anyway). I love the learning business.

Fall. Autumn. Leaves are spectacular in my little valley right now. Frosty mornings and sunny afternoons, and a little snow that melted by afternoon. Apple pie made from apples growing right outside my garage door.

What’s happy-making for you these days?

Things I forget

To defrost frozen chicken for dinner

that I don’t actually love chicken

to wipe bathroom baseboards

what happened in the book I read last night

to get clothes out of the dryer

to draft without editing

how much I like putting up the Christmas tree (but I remember how much I like taking it back down)

to avoid sugar

how good really good ice cream feels in my mouth

to avoid drinking water right before teaching an hour-and-a-half-long class

appointments that aren’t in my phone

to mark down library books’ due-dates

to remove keys from the ignition (only at home)

to check the mailbox

my university GPA — seriously, no idea

to phone my siblings and parents on any kind of regular basis

to buy what I didn’t write on a list

to mow the lawn, until it rains (hooray for rain!)

birthdays (oh, FB, what would I do without you?)

to plant tulips

to add batteries to the clock in the Kids’ bathroom

to replace buttons on shirts hanging in the closet

how much school registration actually costs (kind of like labor)

to paint my toenails (except for once in a while, when they turn out BLACK)

that it (whatever it is) is, actually, going to be okay

where I parked (I take pics of numbered concrete posts with my phone)

how much butter is in a batch of pecan bars

how to spell privilege, receive, and plumber