Saturday, July 31, 2010

Middle Schooler? Middle Child?

So I was thinking this morning about how, in many ways, middle school kids play the same role in the American educational system that middle children play in the family.  In families, first borns get a lot of attention.  They have also been around longer and know how to work the system.  Sounds like the high schoolers to me!  High schools, in California anyway, are funded at a higher rate than lower grades.  More money is tantamount to more attention.  HS kids  know how to work the system whether that means getting more out of education or getting out of more education.  The younger kids in families are cute and attractive to pretty much everyone.   The little elementary kids are cute too.  Their behaviors, their classrooms, their artwork:  cute, cute, cute.  Parents and teachers are focused on core academics.  The younger grades are often when learning disabilities are first discovered and addressed.  If a little kid is acting out, thoughts go immediately to some sort of "issue" - as in ADHD, learning disability, vision or auditory issue, or some such thing.  And then we have the middle child in a family.  These kids can easily be lost in the middle.  They can be relatively invisible, particularly when compared to their cuter younger sibs or their more saavy older sibs. Or, they can make themselves seen by choosing a more visible role in the family (no matter how troublesome that role may be).  That's the thing about middle school kids, too.  They are good at hiding, if they want to.  Or they can make themselves very visible in ways that make many adults uncomfortable.  Either way, I love them!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

An Act of Faith

     I've been thinking about what it is that could be encouraging for 20 something year olds these days.  The price of living is sky high, jobs are scarce, the environment is being assaulted on every front, the Middle East constantly threatens to explode (If North Korea doesn't beat them to it) , and there are mean people out there everywhere.   I sought a little input from friends on this question, hoping to boost the spirits of a couple of 20 somethings I know who are struggling with the "Why Bother Blues".  Specifically, I wondered how to encourage these post college kids who wonder about the value of graduate school when it is so costly and there are limited jobs.  I got some answers.
     For one thing, have you ever heard anyone declare that he or she regretted furthering their education?  Wether we are talking about finishing high school, getting an undergraduate degree, getting a masters degree or completing a professional degree, no one seems to regret the expense in either time or money for such an endeavor.  Education opens professional and career doors as well as personal doors.  The people you meet while studying tend to be engaging and intelligent and often strong friendships evolve out of shared passions.  These educational and personal experiences also build strength, confidence and the ability to take on new challenges. What's not to like?   Money.....
      My focus group and I seem to agree (from our vantage point in life) that money should not be an obstacle to continuing one's education.  Yes, it is scary and cumbersome to take out yet another $50,000 - $80,000 in student loans but money will take care of itself.  There are ways to get some of that debt forgiven, if you don't mind being adventuresome and contributing time to undeserved communities.  And loans can be reconfigured to be paid off in smaller increments over 20+ years.  What the heck!  Without the higher education, your career opportunities and earning potential are limited.  So what if it takes 20+ years to pay it off?  You are working in a field you enjoy and you are being adequately compensated.  There is also hope that the Obama administration will offer some relief, one way or another, for people with student loans.  You never know what the future will hold and it is possible that, again, one way or another, your financial situation will improve.  People marry people who have strong earning potential and no student loans.  Inevitably and morbidly, parents will someday die and a house may come into your hands.  Who knows what is out there?
     And that very nicely plays into the bottom line: faith.  Tough one for me to accept but it's true.  You really do have to have faith that things will work out.  You have to dream.   You have to plan.  You have to find and feed your passion. You have to take chances  You have to act as if.  And, as my friend Megan says, in the end, you have to let go because the outcome is always unknown. As frightening as letting go can be, it can also be freeing.  Letting go is the top of the roller coaster.  Eyes wide open or eyes shut tight, it doesn't matter.  You are free falling and you can enjoy the fall or you can worry about the fall.  So let the wind fly into your face and jump into grad school, jump into life.

Monday, July 26, 2010


     Dam!  It's tough being a twenty-something year old these days.  Frankly, maybe it's always been hard - or at least since the 1960's when opportunities and choices began to explode for young people launching out on their own.  In the 1970's though, you could still go to college for a reasonable price, you could pay $75/mo to share a two bedroom apartment in Silicon Valley and it might cost you $5 or $6 to fill up the 1965 VW bug you purchased for $650.  Sure, you went to college, generally clueless about the next step post college, but there were jobs that you could land that would give you some direction, some idea if this field was a fit for you.
     Not only is the cost of living sky high now, but the job market is discouraging.  To complete a BA or BS is simply not enough to get a position that will allow you to live in the community in which you work and pay off the student loans you have likely acquired.  To know yourself and to predict what sort of work will make you happy is asking a lot of a 20-something year old.  Many of these people simply haven't had the experience to know what opportunities are out there or what field might be best suited for them.  There are few resources available to assist them and little room in the budget to explore carer fields.  I imagine they feel a ton of pressure to get on with life but the overall picture is discouraging.  Tough to find a job, impossible to buy a house, daunting to pay off student loans.  What is there to encourage these kids?  Let me think about that.

Sunday, July 25, 2010


what a lie
how is it possible
how is it okay
how can real be
when deception
blocks the way

wear a mask
pretend to be
like the other wants
to see

is there really a me
that I want you to see?
I know the you
is not who
you said you were

and how can I see
how can I know
the truth
in me
in you

Friday, July 23, 2010

Holey Moley!

     Yikes!  There is just too much to do! Some things never change.  But twenty years ago, it was too much to do as in laundry, read to kids, bathe kids, go to grocery store, take kids to the library, make dinner, snuggle with kids, eat dinner, clean up kitchen, read to kids, snuggle with kids, clean the bathroom, take a walk with the kids, do some exercise, take kids to the park, snuggle with kids, play legos and barbies with kids - you get the picture.    Make no mistake about this:  those were good days but busy, busy, busy days, building a family days, being a responsible parent days, good days.  Kids have flown the coop so why so busy now days?
      Okay, then, let's start with a job and bingo, you can say good bye to  40+ hours a week.  I hasten to add that they are good hours.  I love my work and wouldn't want to change that at this time - I appreciate the paycheck too (since the kids have flown the coop to college).  Next, consider that the aging body needs time and attention and I am not referring to botox and boob lift time!  No, general maintenance for good health necessitates, for me, at least an hour daily of physical exercise.  Again, I don't object to this as I generally enjoy the physical exercise, particularly when it involves my bicycle or walking with a friend. But besides the cardiovascular workout, I have to do some weight lifting (you gotta be able to lift yourself out of the bathtub!) and I should be doing more flexibility stuff. The years make the joints stiff and stretching the body appears to be the solution. The whole exercise package can easily add up to another twelve hours a week. Bye bye, precious time. Besides exercise, I do choose to use time to keep myself reasonably presentable, ie, shower, wash hair, slap some sunscreen and foundation on, figure out what to wear, get an occasional haircut and, yes, color the hair every so often - Bingo! average another 6 or 7 hours a week just to attempt to not present like a bag lady.

     While we are on the topic of maintenance, let's consider house, laundry, and food.  Enough said.  Chalk up ten hours a week and know that none of them gets the attention they demand.  If my time were without borders, I wouldn't mind futzing with the house or doing something beyond salad and some kind of protein for dinner but, for now, these are called chores and the least amount of time I spend here, the better.

     What next?  Now the fun stuff!  Read, read, and read some more!  There is never enough time for me to read all that I want to read.  I enjoy contemporary novels,  I gravitate to a lot of non fiction work (including the social sciences and biographies), I have discovered several very engaging on line reading sources (Huffington Post could easily take up an hour of my day), and I am still a subscriber to the daily newspaper and 6 or 8 magazines.  In my ideal world I would have several hours a day devoted exclusively to reading but this is the real world.  So, leisure reading (not reading for work) gets only maybe 8 or ten hours a week of my time but it could get a whole lot more.  The same can be said for writing.  I enjoy writing, even writing for work, but now I am getting into the bits and pieces of discretionary time and so writing gets shoved over there on the fringes of my daily life.  The same applies to painting and photography for fun.  LOVE LOVE LOVE both of these pursuits but they simply don't get to come to the party very often.  I have found ways to incorporate the photography into my work - create a yearbook! And I leave all the painting stuff set up in Alex's bedroom so that I can always have work in progress.  Sometimes I steal ten minutes to add to a work in progress and, because I have the luxury of leaving everything set up, I can do that quite nicely.  And ten minutes is all it takes to remind me that, yes, I am an artist.
     And why exactly do two dogs live at my house?  Because they were once  irresistible and now they are friends, fun, and a part of the family.  And they require time...... But they do bring us to my last category for now:  people.  People are the best and the reason that all the rest of life exists.  And people is where I choose to put my time too!  Family first followed by the best friends a person could want.  Remember that list from twenty years ago?  Did you notice that "friends" was absent from that list?  Not an oversight but the way it was.  Yes, there were friends and family with whom I shared time but growing healthy kids didn't allow much time for growing strong friendships.  And the older I get , the more I want to envelope myself with connections.  I thrive on conversation and laughter, on shared confidences and tears.  I need my friends.  I need my family.  And they can have my time.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Create, Not Copy

     Until very recently I considered myself a "fake artist" because my style of choice is very abstract.  I have a tough time painting the real world as it is.  Frankly, I don't know how to do that and when I take classes or read and try to learn how to paint realistically, I mostly only get irritated and frustrated.  About a year ago, I just let go of that need to paint for real and began to paint what I saw in my head or what my hands felt like painting.  I painted to get images out of my head and into the world.  I painted because playing with paint and brushes made me smile.  I also painted when I was angry or sad and somehow that process tempered my anger or sadness.

    A few weeks ago I discovered a book that changed my perspective about my painting. Written by Rolina van Vliet and entitled "The Art of Abstract Painting", this book actually made me feel less foolish about my artistic endeavors. It gave me some credibility as an artist! The artist was able to clarify for me what I have been doing. She writes about how the realistic painter is using external information to guide the painting. Things from the outside influence the painter's work. An abstract painter, on the other hand, uses the same elements as the representational painter (shape, color, and line, for example) but the abstract painter's art is not meant to represent "something". The art comes from the painter's imagination and feeling; there is no relationship with reality. Bingo! The light went on! 

    When formerly I saw myself as a second class painter (just messing with paints), now I see myself as creating something, not merely copying something that is already out there in the world. I like it when someone looks at my painting and sees something in it. That's fun and I am always interested. But I don't generally expect that kind of reaction. Sometimes, I know exactly what it is I am putting down on paper (although no one else may be able to recognize it) and I keep it a secret just because I can. I don't paint for an audience; I paint for myself. It gives me so much to think about (or not think about).

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Skateboards, Teddy Bears, and Mascara

       So I had this wild brainstorm while riding my bike in the very early hours this morning.  I am going to write a blog about middle school!  I LOVE working at a middle school.  I enjoy the kids, I sympathize with the parents, I hear the teachers' frustrations -- I was born to be in middle school.  The blog will be pitched to parents and to people who work in middle schools (capturing the ah-ha experience) and will always end with something along the line of: and that's why I know I was born to be in middle school.  It is not about dissing the middle school child.  In fact, it is about appreciating the middle school child.  It is about celebrating their spark and their humor.  It is about acknowledging their sometimes unrealistic picture of the world but appreciating the eyes that see that world.  It will recognize the in between space that middle schoolers find themselves in:  too old for teddy bears, hot wheels and constant supervision,  too young for   driving, sex, and no supervision.  Middle schoolers do, however,  find themselves the right age for confusing crushes, for parents who don't understand, for teachers who expect them to care about English grammar when their best friend is in crisis.  They can care passionately for people suffering after a horrific tsunami, they can dream big dreams of playing major league ball or dancing with the Joffrey Ballet, they can be worried about their friend who is drinking on the weekends.  They can do those things  even as they are failing every class and serving detentions for leaving their gym shorts at home day after day.  They are such a mixed bag.  And that's why I was born to be in middle school.  This all makes sense to me.  The one difference is that  I can see it with the perspective that is generally lacking in a twelve year old.   Middle school kids let you see them if you look for them and at them.  I  go to work every day looking forward to seeing the kids!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Everything Changes; Nothing Changes

     I was recently surprised to receive a six inch high bundle of letters and cards that took me on a reflective journey.  The bundle was sent to me by my uncle and the cards and letters were the messages that I had sent to him over the years.  He is in his late 70's and, as he said, he is going through stuff.  I was amazed to learn that he had saved all those letters and touched that he thought to send them back to me, all bundled up and ready for discoveries.
     The earliest one appeared to have been sent in 1962, making me 9 years old.  Funny to read it and see my "best guess" spelling!  What!  You mean I didn't always know how to spell?  There are one or two from high school but the majority of the letters were sent while I was in my twenties. Through my thirties and forties I sent him one or two a year - mostly chatty updates about how the kids are doing.
     The most interesting collection came from that twenties decade.  While reading through them, I was struck by how much has changed and how much remains the same.  That was a tumultuous decade for me, beginning with a confusing marriage that turned into a messy life and ended with a wrenching divorce.  But talk about discovery!  That's when I found out who I COULD be.
     The decade played out with travel, education, a developing career path, a grand assortment of new friends and new connections and ended as it had begun: marriage at 29!   And, even though my path was convoluted, the cards and letters demonstrate that I was forever and always wanting to examine it.  Ah, some things never change!  And, even in my 20's, I was lonely and reflective while still pushing ahead with new challenges, willing to put myself out there and see what happened.
     In reading the correspondence, I meet a trusting, bright eyed, change the world sort of girl (and she was a girl).  There's the everything changes part.  The girl is now a grown up, an adult - no matter how much she wants to still be a girl.  She's not so trusting although the bright eyes can still be seen when she is engaged in biking, painting, or uncontrollable laughter with friends.  She does still welcome new challenges, hopes for surprises, and knows she can only change the world one tiny moment at a time.  Life is more realistic and responsible now, kinda deflating, but she is much MUCH stronger.  She can hold up anything that needs to supported  and knows enough not to worry too much about her future.  It will be what it will be and she will survive (or not).

Friday, July 2, 2010

Holding Out For A Hero

    This whole idea of a hero has been on my mind lately.  Are there any heroes in today's world?  Before drawing any conclusions, I have to define hero.  A hero is not to be confused with a person who performs an heroic deed.  To act heroically in the moment is commendable but to be a hero involves more than momentary action.  So what would that look like?
    As my dear friend and confidant Megan Rooney noted a hero is courageous.  As she also pointed out courage cannot to be confused with fearlessness.  Courage means the ability to confront fear, pain, uncertainty, danger in the face of hardship, suffering, or even death in order to benefit the greater good.  A person with moral courage is able to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, or discouragement.  Fearlessness isn't quite so noble in my mind. Danger may be confronted but the motivation behind the action is more egocentric as opposed to community based.
Uncle Frank
    So, a hero must show courage in some aspect of his or her life.  My father's courage in the face of WWII has always impressed me.  He was a 19 year old boy and he went off to places remote and scary (the South Pacific).  With very little training, his assignment was  to fix the bodies of friends and others who had been blown up (he was a medic).  I can't imagine how frightened he must have been and yet he went and did what he believed to be right.  My wonderful and loving friend Frank Schiavo showed tremendous moral courage in the way he lived his life.  Frank put his care for the environment above anything else.  He LIVED environmentalism and could tell you the why and how of everything environmental.  It wasn't easy to live modern life Frank's way but he resisted so many of the popular trends in favor of a life style that would sustain the planet.
    I think a hero also has integrity but integrity is tough to assess.  A person with integrity has the courage to say no and to face the truth.  He or she does the right thing because it IS the right thing to do.  Again, referring to Frank, he was a man of integrity.  He lived his life very honestly and openly.  He had strong beliefs about the right way to live and he stuck with them even when I am sure it was a hard thing to do. From what I have read and seen about Fred Rogers he was a man of pure integrity.  He had strong beliefs about what was in the best interests of children and he worked hard to make that happen.   He could laugh at himself and the caricatures that SNL and others made of him but he knew what was right for kids.  I am sure his intentions might have been questioned for a variety of reasons but he was steadfast in making media healthy and  tender for small children.
    A hero also inspires others to strive to be the best they can be.  By their words and actions, heros encourage other people to become more courageous, more compassionate, more deeply involved with the world, no matter how small or how complicated that world might be.  Christopher Reeve and Gilda Radner come to my mind when I think of inspiring people.  Both of these young celebrities were handed tragic surprises by the universe and yet they turned those tragic circumstances into something that has inspired and benefited so many other people.  Both Gilda and Christopher wrote about their afflictions and how their lives were dramatically changed and their words and actions have made a huge difference to many other people.  Michael J Fox is doing that now.  I read Michael's book Lucky Man when it first came out in 2003.  Prior to reading his memoir, I assumed he was another rich celebrity with questionable integrity (my cynical nature showing through).  However, my assumptions were shattered after reading that book. I now eagerly listen to Michael when he speaks or writes because I trust him.  His experiences and his attitude about his life make me want to be a better person.  There's a hero for you.
    I still need to ponder this for a while - I want to get it right.  I have answered that earlier question:  are there still heroes today?  Yes, I would say that my heroes include (but are not limited to)  all of the people mentioned above.  But this doesn't really feel finished.  It is as if I am missing something.  What about the notion that a hero has something much bigger than his or her own self as their driving force?  And what are the avenues that create heroes?  With the exception of Frank Schiavo and Fred Rogers, the people I referenced above  had the opportunity of being a hero thrust upon them.  They were just going along doing their lives when something disrupted their plans.  It is what they did, how they handled the disruption that made the difference.  Mr. Schiavo and Mr. Rogers made choices and acted on their beliefs.  To advocate and watch over something of value made them heroes.  They weren't given a disruption to direct their stewardship.  They chose to take a harder path and that choice elevated them to heroes in my opinion.  I am seeing that heroes do take on something bigger than themselves, if only to allow themselves to find meaning in tragedy.  What else am I missing?

       Saint or hero?  That's another conundrum -- I prefer hero.  Saint feels all perfect all the time.  Hero feels more human, more not perfect just struggling to get it - something - right.  I would rather hang out with heroes than saints!