I’m Not OK But Thanks For Asking

I’m not OK, but thanks for asking. No really. I know I have a well-deserved reputation for sarcasm, but that was not sarcasm. I can’t tell you how much it means that so many people care about me and have gone out of their way to check on me – reaching out across the country and around the world. That is pretty awesome. If love was enough then I would be well, but it isn’t. I honestly don’t know what will make things well again, but love always helps.

I used to believe in the power of time to heal, but lately it seems that more time just gives karma another shot at me.

I used to believe in the power of self-care to see me through difficult times deploying a combination of wallowing and indulgence to see me through the worst, but now every self-care tip I have attempted has only made things worse.

I used to believe in my resilience but this year has broken me. The truly sad thing is that this has not even been the worst year of my life. I’ve had far worse years, but so much bad luck has accumulated that I just can’t cope anymore. Perhaps it is the exponential bad luck, maybe the compression of a lot of bad luck in a short time span, or simply that I am tired and I am hopeless. That is my ongoing struggle. I am depleted and my usual sources of refueling are no longer working to combat the wear and tear of life.

It really is just life, but for me, right now, life is really really hard. I know many friends are struggling with far more serious challenges than I, but that doesn’t help me cope. Incessant wrangling with my employer combined with constantly deteriorating working conditions has worn me down. I shouldn’t have to fight to get paid for working so much this summer, but I do. I shouldn’t have to fight to receive equipment ordered with my personal professional development funds, but I do. I should be recognized for my contributions, but I am not. So much lost time fighting these battles and losing them takes longer and longer to get over. I love my work, but I wish I wasn’t trapped by circumstances in this position. Add a car accident that left my vehicle totaled to this already precarious financial circumstance so no family vacation and now an unexpected car payment – salt in the wound is the weeks of wrangling with insurance simply to get what is owed. I hate State Farm and cannot ever recommend them, FYI. Then in the midst of all this we had to put down our beloved Max. It was time, but his loss leaves a gaping hole in my life.  I can’t express how much this devastates me. The last straw was the death of our desktop (instigated by Clark Energy’s decision to replace our electric meter). A lost morning trying various methods of revival was followed by an afternoon discovering how much of my course preparation was locked into that brick. Right now I cannot summon the energy to cope with that problem and one more unexpected expense.

So now I’m heading into a semester worn down and emotionally destroyed – behind with my preparation and unable to take a break because there are so many demands on my time and attention. I am barely functional, but somehow I’ll muddle through because what choice do I have?

But that’s why I’m not OK. Thanks for asking.

Challenge Yourself

Challenge Yourself

One of the things I constantly stress with my students is to move outside their comfort zone. It is only outside our comfort zones that we learn and grow — evolve if you will. While this is important for students, it is equally important for the rest of us. When was the last time you challenged yourself? To learn something new, to attempt something new, to simply move away from the comfortable and familiar ruts we all create.

I haven’t always been good at this myself. The comfortable is so very comfortable after all. Plus, life is busy and it is hard enough to handle the things I need to do let alone make time for new things. But I do try, during the summer, when life is just slightly less busy and full (fractionally), to push myself, to challenge myself.

One of the challenges I have undertaken for the past two summers has been to write more poetry. Despite four post-secondary English degrees, my poetry education is lacking and I still find writing poetry to be a very challenging, sometimes frightening, experience, but the more I read poetry, write poetry, and talk with other poets (I cringe to even call myself a poet) the more I come to appreciate that we all need more poetry in our lives. Poetry helps us think about ideas, both big and small, and explore those ideas in more manageable chunks than different text forms. I recently started subscribing to the Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day and I have found so many ideas to think about and write about. One of the ways that I challenged myself to write more poetry was to participate in LexPoMo – a month-long poetry writing challenge for Lexington, Kentucky, and the surrounding region (seems like all of Kentucky!). Last year I wrote a dozen poems and this year I wrote 16 poems. June is a super busy month for me (even though I’m officially not working!) because the Morehead Writing Project has a lot going on, so I am proud to reach both numbers and I think this year’s poems were better than last year’s so that is also a point of pride. Part of this challenge for me was reading The Poet’s Companion and working my way through a number of exercises in the book. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in writing poetry, but continue to struggle (like me).

Another way I like to push myself each summer is to participate in CLMOOC (Connected Learning Massive Open Online Collaboration). This community spans the globe and involves a lot of educators but others who simply want to have fun and learn together. There is a lot of playful innovation and experimentation as we contemplate some serious questions about learning and human growth. Every summer I learn something new and am pushed outside my comfort zone.

What will you do to challenge yourself? When was the last time you challenged yourself? Do you think there are benefits to challenging yourself on a regular basis?

My #OLW for 2017 is Light

My #OLW for 2017 is Light

I have chosen Light as my One Little Word for 2017 because this word is comforting and inspirational. Light has so many different meanings that I immediately felt better for thinking about this choice. I have so many fears about 2017 that I need something to give me hope and inspiration.

That is the beauty of light. Light is the candle that lights our way in the darkness. I can hope that we will all find the light at the end of the tunnel in 2017. But we can also think of this word as something that lifts as in lifting our spirits or lightening our load. A lighter can be a device that causes a flame to light or it can be a form of transport. The love of light is deeply ingrained in our being. No matter how dark the night the first light of dawn always offer a lift in spirit and hope. Light not only inspires hope, but it represents it. Lights and light bulbs represent genius and ingenuity. This is something I hope for all of us, because I believe our world needs more of this. Lights are our guides as well as beacons of hope. Light warns us off dangerous shoals and when to pause and to exercise caution. Light shows us the way if we pay attention. Light is celebration, but also a reminder that life, like light, is fleeting. We must embrace the beauty and joy of each moment and search for the beautiful in the mundane.

I think my One Little Word offers me both hope and guidance for the coming year and I hope you find the #OLW that can do as much for you. I hope that I can be a lighter for others whether they need someone to ignite their flame or lighten their load. Check out the path I used to select my #OLW for 2017 and choose your own One Little Word. Check out my brief video about Light to inspire you on your journey.

You need more poetry in your life

You need more poetry in your life

You need more poetry in your life. I was sharply reminded of this epic truth this weekend when I was cleaning. I hate cleaning and often listen to NPR podcasts to make unpalatable tasks more bearable. As fate would have it, the podcast I chose was new to me although after this weekend’s binge I am a big fan: Al Letson‘s State of the Re:Union.

However, it was the Poetry Month show: The Poems, The Poets, The Power that reminded me that poetry is so often the solution for everything that ails me. My life hasn’t been so great lately. I won’t bore you with the details because there are many many people so much worse off than me, but Friday afternoon was a low point for me. I was just so worn down and worn out that I didn’t know what to do. There were some blog posts I wanted to write, but I just couldn’t settle with all these emotions teeming and roiling inside.

That is how I ended up cleaning – I thought maybe if I took control over one small corner of my life and created order in one room that I might be better able to tackle something larger. Isn’t that one of the things people tell you to do when you are overwhelmed? Focus on some small, simple task you can accomplish?

As fate would have it, I chose to listen to The Poems, The Poets, The Power while trying to take control over one small corner of the chaos that is my life and I found myself laughing and crying and, more importantly, writing poetry. It has been weeks since I wrote a poem and clearly there was a log jam of emotions that needed to be cleared. I dumped three word avalanches onto the pages of my journal, cleaning and writing and cleaning and writing and cleaning and writing.

I have since shaped one of those word dumps into a poem (see The Sandwich) and am still working on the other two — in part because I still haven’t settled on the form I need to harness (direct?) all the emotion wrapped up in those pieces. But this is why I need to write more poetry and you do too!

You can’t tell me — in these times and in this world — you do not have a similar log jam of emotions causing all sorts of problems. Put down the whiskey and the antacids and pick up your pen. Don’t believe me? Listen to The Poems, The Poets, The Power and accept your fate as a poet. You don’t have to share your poems as I do although you should. I share my work not because I think I am an awesome poet because I am still very  much a poet in progress. I share my work because I believe poetry inspires more poetry. I hope to make you think “well if she can write poetry” or “my poems aren’t any worse than hers”.

Whatever you think of my poetry, I hope you will pick up a pen and write a poem of your own to release the log jam inside you. And if you feel like sharing please use the #JustWrite hashtag.

Empathy is Always the Answer

Empathy is Always the Answer

I believe empathy is always the answer. Hate seems to dominate the news and social media. This hurts my heart. I don’t understand how anyone can spend so much priceless life energy on hate. I turned 50 this year and the one lesson I have learned is that hate never solved anything. Love is the opposite of hate, but for love to stand a chance against hate we must first have empathy. I envision empathy as the roots of a tree. While the first roots may be small and tender, eventually they delve deeply into the earth to both feed and support the tree. The deeper and stronger the roots grow then the stronger and taller the tree. In my metaphor, the roots of the tree are empathy and the tree itself is our humanity. Empathy is essential to our humanity, because without it we cannot love. Empathy is the beginning of understanding and understanding cures hate. Empathy helps us see other people as human and builds connections between us that make it harder to sustain hate. Once we have seen that others are like us we can no longer see “others” as something frightening, alien, and less than human – less than us.

My first Ph.D. class was online. A few weeks into classes, my grandfather died. The timing of the arrangements combined with my work schedule put me on a plane during our scheduled weekly class. The next week we experienced severe thunderstorms which knocked our power out – moments before class was due to start. Missing two classes in a row is a pretty big deal for graduate classes. When I contacted my instructor to explain myself, again, all I could think about was the many students who have shared similar versions of back-to-back catastrophes and my frequent skepticism (the grandparent death toll at midterms and finals is alarming). I was sure he wouldn’t believe my explanations, I would fail the class, be kicked out of the program, and so on. None of those things happened. He graciously accepted that sometimes life happens and we discussed how I would make up what I missed. I did the work and we moved on. I aced the class, stayed in the program, and earned my Ph.D.

I have often thought about this experience. Life happens to students and sometimes those students have made mistakes and bad choices. Now that I’ve been on the other side of the desk it is easier for me to give students the benefit of the doubt. I know life really does happen. I strive to apply this lesson outside the classroom as well. There is an old saying: “You can’t really understand another person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” This is a very ancient saying I’ve heard attributed to many cultures, but it is a universal truth. Until we share someone’s experience we cannot understand them. While we certainly don’t want to truly experience the difficulties and tragedies of others, and most people wouldn’t wish us to, we can all benefit from imagining ourselves in others’ shoes. I wonder how much tragedy could be averted if we did this more?

Write your own This I Believe essay and learn more about the NPR program, companion book, and web site.

Artwork by Picography on Pixabay