Uncertainty

This morning, as most of the school was walking to morning assembly, two 8th graders bounced up to me and said: “Ms Blythe!!!! It’s been SO long!” These two were my students when they were 6th and 7th graders, and I came to know them from when they were very small to when they were very awkward to when they were almost teenagers, and now, they are on their way to high school. It is amazing to bear witness to the growth of children, and to be a person they trust with their feelings: both fears and joys.

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Robert Indiana, first day of issue January 26, 1973

One told me about a drama about a friend, a fight, and head lice: the fare of middle school experience and friendship. As we were walking into the gym together, the other one said: “Ms Blythe? If we go to war, will it be like World War III?” I said, “Well. I need you to look at me while I say this.” She said, “ok” and looked directly at me. I put my arm around her and said, “I have absolutely no idea. But if it is, we will go through it together.”

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Ali Cat Leeds of EntangledRoots.com

It’s been ages since I wrote here, and really ages since I documented my last public school teaching experience in inner city Philadelphia. This school year is so trying: the students are dealing with so much stress, and so are the teachers. What is funny (the type of funny that is tragic, not laugh-out-loud) is that, in the public education sphere, or at least my public education sphere, no one is speaking out or with each other about the stress that the outer world is causing in our hearts and minds.

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Hope by George Frederic Watts, 1886

I taught a professional development yesterday on how to teach good quality projects. At the beginning, I asked teachers to play by working 6 feet of wire into something that represented what was going on with them yesterday morning. Most jumped into the task, a few fought it at first, one point-blank refused and left. After a few minutes, it was fascinating to watch a group of 30 adults playing with wire, bending it, shaping it, talking to their friends, laughing, wondering: bemused at their own inner-workings. A few spoke about their sculptures, but most just left them on a large table, much like children do. I realized during the second session that the vast majority of my adult students were overwhelmed, tired, sad, confused, stressed-out and hollow-eyed. They didn’t know what to do in terms of developing a project. I realized at the end of the first session that we really should have canned it all and done something else, but it was too late, and there was no Plan B.

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Candles burning in a Buddhist temple: photographer unknown

When that student asked me about World War III earlier today, I almost cried then and there. Later, we had a tornado drill and I envisioned my portable being picked up and carried by a giant tornado that would drop us on our side somewhere down the road.

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Teachr, Teach Peace – his Facebook is here

I watched a video by Robert Reich the other day in which he explained that stress, feelings of trauma, dread, despair, are all common-place in our current state of affairs. I think we can see evidence of that from before this president was elected in the opioid epidemic: we are the only country in the world who is dying in huge numbers of hopelessness, sadness, and desperation, however, I will say that those feelings may be experienced currently by more people than pre-election day 2016.

America, poor America! You sick culture of racism and of classism, and of feelings of not being good enough, smart enough, rich enough. As adults, we can try to dismiss those fears or at least cloud them with exercise, working in the garden, cooking, drinking wine,  and eating too much dessert. But our children: my question is, what can they do?

My students are in 7th grade. They were born in the year 2005, four years after 9/11, and after the beginning of what is now America’s longest war. They have never known their country in peace-time. During their lives, America has increased its prison population, and the awareness of the murder of African-Americans by police has become commonplace thanks to social media. Their media life is one of Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Paris bombings, Orlando and now Las Vegas shootings. Their governmental life was one of hope with President Obama, shot down by the election of Donald Trump, and colored by his rants about North Korea, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Iran.

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Unknown, brilliant Twitter cartoonist

Most of my students are immigrants or children of immigrants. Most of my children are economically classed as “poor”. Most of my children have parents who are working so hard just to give them what society demands is necessary: tiny mega-computers that broadcast this information-propaganda-fear into their pockets, into their living rooms, into their eyes, into their minds at night when they are alone. How frightening is this? How more frightening is it that we, the adults, are so scared that we do not know how to discuss it in a pro-active, assertive, and hopeful way?

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Almond botanical drawing: in the language of flowers, Almond is for Promise

Hugs do a lot, but they do not do enough. As a teacher, as a step-parent to a 7th grade child, it is up to me to shield where I can, but be willing to talk when the questions come up, because the shield that my parents had for me no longer exists. The courage lies in looking into the dark and understanding that we know very little more than we did when we were 7th graders, and the courage comes from the very thing itself: courage to believe, courage to speak, courage to love, courage to hope.

I hope to write more here. I hope to hear from you. With love, P

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Ali Cat Leeds from EntangledRoots.com

 

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This Is My Story

***This story will make you uncomfortable, it sure does me. I am trying, in my own way, to end a stigma that has affected me for twenty years. In my own way, I am trying to #shoutmyabortion.***

I am fifteen, and a very scrawny one, at that. I have been dating a boy named Chris for about six months.

We met at the beginning of my freshman year, in debate class. Truth be told, I had a crush on his friend Steve, and, at debate tournaments, remember sharing conversations about oranges. “Did you ever think that the little sacs in an orange are like little tiny Capri Suns?” I did.

We started dating because my friend Becca told me, in the lunch line, that Chris had a crush on me. On our first date, we went to Barnes and Noble and chatted with our friend Jeff who worked at the Starbucks inside. We also perused the philosophy section, awkwardly talking. That summer, we convinced our parents that we were volunteering at the library so that we could spend every sunny day together, at the bottom of the hillside behind the Woodlands Pavilion. It was there that I realized I was so nervous about becoming sexual: that I thought the ins and outs of sex were so confusing and icky, I didn’t know what to do about it.

I was very tall, even then, and a late bloomer to boot. Chris and I used to treasure stolen moments on soccer fields, the bottoms of hillsides, and the backseat of his 280ZX. One night, on the jungle gym of the playground behind my house, we first had sex. I had never had a period, so didn’t think to worry. And then, over the next few months, still didn’t. We kept having sex in stolen moments, usually in the parking lots of the technology companies that decorated The Woodlands with cool night-lights. It was the stuff of high school romance: we would party with our friends in the trees that surrounded the Montessori School, or on the paths that wound around the faux lakes.

It was about four and a half months later that my mom began to worry that I hadn’t had a period yet. I was fifteen, and even to her, it seemed strange. So we went to the gynecologist, and I had the first oh-so intrusive exam of my life. Little did I know what would happen. A few minutes later, I was called into the doctor’s office, with my mom, and was told that I was pregnant, and in my second trimester.

What happened next was a blur of shame and confusion. My dad was out of town, as he always was. Chris, myself and our parents met at my house and sat in the fancy living room: the one that no one sat in. We were forced to write a pros and cons list of having a baby. Obviously, the cons won out.

Soon thereafter, Chris, myself, and both our moms went to a clinic off FM1960 and I walked past protesters telling me that I was a terrible person for doing what I was about to do. I remember sitting, and waiting, and being given medicine. I had to go home that night and wait, throwing my guts out all the evening through. I was experiencing what is now known as a partial birth abortion, later made illegal. The next day, we went back to that clinic and back through those lines of protesters, sat, waited, and then I went back with a few other women. I remember being shown a sonagram of the baby, and hoisted onto a table. Later that day, the moms took us to get cake at a Vietnamese bakery. I remember wondering: why are we eating cake? I was in a haze of medicine and confusion.

We went to counseling for six months, and even ran the evening day care at the United Way to “deal with it”. And then, we never spoke of it again. My dad came home from wherever he was, and life carried on. Or so I thought.

My mother never told my father, perhaps to protect me from his rage and his incoherent style of parenting that combined public praise with private punishment. I internalized this and realized that I had done something so terrible and so wrong as it had to be hidden, forever.

Years later, I wrote my mother about these feelings and she apologized saying that she felt she and my father hadn’t shown me enough love, and so I went out and found it with Chris. This isn’t true, and shows a simplistic and dismissive outlook on what family and love is. In fact, I felt such love with Chris, despite our age. I felt a sense of family with him and his family: something I didn’t have with my family of origin. The lack of family with my mother and father stemmed from an intense instability: my dad couldn’t function without anger and rage, and my mother just tried to hold it all together. When I went to Chris’ house, we watched movies and ate dinner, we went on family vacations and drank Kool Aid. We sat in the driveway and listened to Wu Tang Clan and talked about the world. We drove in that 280ZX and visited with friends. We were family. When I went home, it was cold and beautiful: so clean. It was without love: it was no one’s fault. My mother was living in a charade that she desperately hoped to maintain: one that looked like a married couple with two children. The reality of it was far darker, and none of us wanted to look at it. I was a child, and my mom was in denial.

For years, I have wondered where the shame comes from. I have been investigating the shame monster lately: he comes up when I am afraid or threatened, and I have put myself in situations where the shame monster transforms into a pain monster and all the shame becomes emotional or physical pain. This makes me feel at home, as if I know it, and its implications make sense. I am bad, therefore I should be hurt. It is a classic survivor of childhood abuse scenario: I search for another abuser. It is remarkable how easy they are to find. First was an insecure college boyfriend, then came a job working at a school where I was threatened by my students. Then came another abusive boyfriend, so like my father that I interchanged their names during fights. Then came moving to a dangerous city and an equally dangerous school. Then came respite, in Maine, and confusion. In Maine, I was close to my family and looked at their daily crazy life as normal. I began to think: maybe this is what all families are like? I realized: this isn’t so bad, they are getting better!

And then I left. I came to Austin last spring and found myself in a beautiful relationship with a truly loving man. We all know how this story ends up. I didn’t know how to handle what was happening: being challenged in a positive way, being loved, being appreciated. One night we got into a fight because he was feeling insecure about my new teaching job and my time away from him. He chose poorly: I recognize that. We got into a fight, found resolution, but the shame monster woke up. He perked up, like those goblins in The Labyrinth. He said, “here! There is food for me here!” I became insecure about that fight, and over-internalized its meaning. I gave it more weight than it needed. I talked about it in such a way to friends, friends who have long been too involved in my emotional decision making. I had planned a trip to Maine for a week before school started, and off I went.

During this trip, the same old same old happened. Three days of peace followed by…something. I don’t know what I did but it pissed my dad off. He yelled, I felt terrible. I called Cody on the phone, realizing that the situation wasn’t better….it was the same, only I had been away a while. I felt like shit, like dog shit. I hated my family situation. I walked with my mom to the beach, trying to get her to see clearly. She kept saying “I’m fine.” I left, again. I arrived in Austin in a white dress to my loving boyfriend, who had prepared a beautiful reception for me, and I thought, I am fine. The shame monster laughed. He knew better.

I decided I needed therapy because I was having a hard time understanding that one fight and school and being back in Austin. I verbalized this fear and Cody answered with fears of his own. I think he was afraid that if I went to therapy, I would break up with him. This was his stuff. Then I was struck in the gut by a surprise: I had to have my IUD removed because it was lodged in my uterus and cervix. The can of worms that was my shame associated with that abortion twenty years ago reared its ugly head. I had to go and have the one barrier against that fear happening again removed. I had to because of my health. Cody went with me and was loving and wonderful and took care of me for the two days that came afterwards. I remember not wanting him to leave: being afraid of it, even. Now I understand why.

The next few weeks were confusing. I was stressed out at school and also feeling shame, so much shame. So much fear: as if I couldn’t control how I was feeling. I was falling, deep, deep down. So far down I couldn’t see the bottom. I told him I couldn’t go to Thanksgiving. He became very upset. I went with him to get pizza on his way out of town and couldn’t stop crying in the parking lot. I was afraid but I didn’t know what of. He left and I went to a friend’s family’s house. During those two days, her father did what my father always does to me: criticized and judged, yelled and berated. I felt accosted, and I left. I called Cody and he was understanding. The shame monster laughed so loud, but I still couldn’t hear him clearly.

Time passed. It got worse. Cody broke up with me. I went to his house late at night. We got back together. We went camping for my birthday. I kept it all secret. I had booked a flight to Maine for Christmas and wanted so badly not to go, but went anyway. Three days later, my dad screamed at me for cooking a sausage in the kitchen. My mom blamed me for his anger. The shame monster stepped in. Cody picked me up, late in the evening of the 3rd of January. It was so late, and the airport was packed with Christmas travelers. He was not so happy at the idea of it all, and I internalized it and said: he doesn’t want me, he doesn’t love me, he is angry with me. Shame took the wheel.

Since then, I haven’t been able to relax. Every aspect of my life became taken over with shame. Shame that I couldn’t do “this”, that I was failing. I had a man who wanted to love me but I gave him every thing I had to tell him he didn’t, and that it was a bad idea. We went to Houston on Valentine’s weekend and it was fun, but I was avoidant and strange. The next week, I abandoned everything and went to Pittsburgh. He wouldn’t answer my texts and didn’t call. The Tuesday afterward, he broke up with me.

Someone told me a few weeks ago that I hadn’t hit bottom with my feelings yet, and that’s why I couldn’t identify them. When Cody broke up with me, and perhaps even a few days earlier, I approached bottom. I cut off my hair, and after that, I couldn’t stop crying. I cried and cried and cried. I cried at every moment, sparing only my students. When they left the room, I cried. At first I thought I was grieving Cody, and I was, but as my friend Barbara told me, I was also grieving myself. I wrote pages and pages, trying to decipher my feelings. I realized, after that conversation with Barbara, that I don’t think I have lost Cody, but that I lost myself. This is what I realized.

When I was 15 and an abortion, I took the stigma associated with it to heart. I internalized that I was bad. I did not deserve good. It was very simple. I went through relationships, and even got married in this methodology. I married a man who never challenged me, and therefore never had to face this. After my years of introspection in Maine, when I thought I was safe, I fell in love with Cody. Cody, despite his own faults, is a good man who loved me through and through. I didn’t trust this love, or my feelings. I talked about it too much, I doubted it. I lost it. The shame monster came in and said: you don’t deserve happiness!! How dare you even think that??? You are a fool, and an idiot, and if anyone sees you, they will know this to be true. Every relationship after this was affected by these beliefs. I never allowed anyone that close, every again, until Cody. In Cody, I believe in love and redemption. I felt family. I love him, and his son. I love everything about him, even his faults. There was no one else I wanted to be with, but yet, I felt like he would see me and leave me. He would see the badness in me and know it and leave. So I did everything I could to make him see it. And, despite never seeing the bad, he was overwhelmed by it and left.

When I made this realization, one that came after twenty years of internalization, denial, and repression, I couldn’t stop crying, and I still haven’t. The amount of regret that I feel, and the grief that I feel for that fifteen year old girl is almost unfathomable. I reached out to Chris, my high school boyfriend, and we talked at length about how fucked up it is that we haven’t talked about this in twenty years, and that it is the defining moment in both of our lives. He turned to drugs and avoidance: I just turned to avoidance and denial. I blamed myself and thought I didn’t deserve love. I couldn’t figure out why it was so hard for me until right now. Now I realize that that 15 year old girl felt so terrible about what had happened to her, that she had let down her family, was a bad girl, had done something so terrible she never deserved what EVERYONE deserves: compassion and love. During that moment, when I was 15, my mother never asked me how I was doing. She never hugged me and asked me if I was ok. This is not her fault: she was locked in her own prison, however, I was the child. I deserved love and compassion and help. And hope. However, I am angry with her, for compartmentalizing my own pain because it was easier for her.

So, over the last few days, I made some important decisions. One was to cut off contact with my family and with some friends who make me feel judged and untrustworthy of my own decisions. It is too easy for me to trust my own decision making processes to others: I think this is an affect of an abusive childhood. This has been the single most difficult decision of my life to date. The second was to not travel for at least one year, for I have used travel as an escape for too long. When things get hard or tricky, I leave for four or five days. This is something that Cody pointed out to me, and he was right. It is time to stay. Third was to go to therapy, twice a month.

My hopes for this time are multi-fold, and all involve forgiveness. Forgiveness of myself, for I was a little girl and had something so complicated and hard happen to me, I had no way to understand it. I needed love and hugs and time to talk. I want to forgive my family, but that will only happen with time and distance. I want to seek forgiveness from Cody, the first person I have truly loved in twenty years.

Last night, my two friends and I were in the desert. I painted a prayer to the baby I lost almost twenty years ago. I have never described her this way. I also wrote, on a rock, her name that Chris and I had invented all those years ago, her birth and death year, and this:

 

“You are forever loved, and so are we.”

Her spirit is buried beneath a mesquite tree, with a view of the arroyo and Mexico beyond. May God grant me the forgiveness I seek, and may the shame monster who has heretofore defined my emotional life, be starved of food. May he live in the shadows, never to return. May I be able to be honest.

We wear these lenses that through which we see life. I have wiped some shit off some of those lenses over the last few weeks. May I be able to continue to see clearly, and to live in love, with few distractions. May I find my way back to me and to love.

Thank you. I love you. Please forgive me.

Stranger in a Strange Land

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In life come moments of clarity. This vision is only offered, not commanded. Your choice is to live in a state of grace or continue in normality. No blame. Fear can be an awesome obstacle when a time like this is presented. You will make great advancement and find your truth if you discharge fear and deconstruct your doubts. – the I Ching

The first tincture was of redwood and honey, I think, and the second was a spritz to the face that smelled like roasted poblano and brought me back to San Miguel de Allende’s dusty, windswept streets. In an instant it was changed to a murky, chocolate-flavored stuff that reminded me in some ways of coffee grounds. The last was a smear to the face of something golden from a large jug. This all happened during a story-circle for this month’s Pisces Full Moon: a circle of story-tellers and singers.

Moments of clarity and feelings of grounding have been hard to come by since my return to Austin; I feel like the place that I once called home is physically here, but everything is so different, including myself. Last night I saw old friends who didn’t even know I was back, and it made me realize that I haven’t truly been “living” here but continuing my attitude and behaviors of passing through, of being a drifter in one place or another. This is amplified now by still being separated from many of my belongings who still lie quietly in Maine, waiting for me to bring them here.

Last night’s theme was one of homecoming, and the first storyteller told a tale of being from Austin and just coming back after being a long time away in a very different place. Hers was the desert and mine was a northern island, but the feelings were the same. She said that a place becomes you, and I think she is right: I think I have even written here how I felt that life in Maine made you feel as if you were the environment that surrounded you: everything so interconnected, changeable, beautiful, mysteriously dark. Perhaps she felt the same away about her desert far away.

Homecoming is this idea full of levels of complication that start with the reality that you can never come home again: that home is different and so are its people. In my case, this city has transformed and swelled so that it seems like it is bursting at the seams, liable to just pour outward in a great torrent of people, cars, and buildings. This town, to me, always seemed a little sleepy and slow, not like Bar Harbor of course, but it was a nice feeling to feel at ease in a place all the time. And now the pace seems so fast that it seems likely to get swept up in it and carried along, without knowing which way you want to choose to go.

Is life so full of chapters? Apparently so.

PhotoDiary – L’Automne

dan photos september 2013 549A natural reflecting pool, Route 1 near Milbridge, Maine

dan photos september 2013 544Marshland

Last week, I went out, with borrowed camera in hand, and took photos of the beauty that is autumn in Maine, autumn in our Acadia National Park, autumn on our island. I am so sad for people who are coming here to see our park and are being shut out or, in some cases, ticketed, for those of who live here can see it all the time. Maybe this glimpse will, at least, help for those of you who are not lucky enough to come and visit during leaf season. I, myself, have not seen anything like it in my lifetime. Once more, I stand ever thankful to be here, right now.

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”

L.M. Montgomery

dan photos september 2013 554One early fall morning at the Carriage House near Northeast Harbor

dan photos september 2013 553I noticed something miraculous and held in time…

dan photos september 2013 556Bricks, granite and leaves sharing similar hues!

dan photos september 2013 567These autumn colours are electric, especially when posited against grey roof tiles and trunks

dan photos september 2013 570dan photos september 2013 578dan photos september 2013 584A glimpse of the far side of Lower Hadlock Pond outside of Northeast Harbor does make you wonder how it all happens so quickly…

dan photos september 2013 586…you can see it again on Parkman Mountain in Acadia National Park.

dan photos september 2013 601The trees are beginning to rest…

dan photos september 2013 589…the grasses are sprouting rainbows from their bases…

dan photos september 2013 590…green is turning to gold.

dan photos september 2013 593Before it all fades to grey, it is time to bear witness to the rash of colours all around us!

dan photos september 2013 596dan photos september 2013 603dan photos september 2013 609Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”

George Eliot

A Funny Thing Happened at the Health Food Store

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The Robert Frost poem that discusses paths in the woods, and taking the one less traveled by, is a tried and true trope of our contemporary culture, and represents both a great romantic idea and an understanding of risk and reward.

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How do we know anything that lies in front of us in this life? We can take the trodden path, the one we know, and expect at least some results based on past experience, but even experience does not prepare us for life’s pitfalls and surprises. And when we measure the risk of venturing out and down the path that is dark and laden with heavy woods, the fear of the unknowns can be all too overwhelming.

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These thoughts were cavorting through my mind the other day when I stopped into our local health food store in Bar Harbor, and there I found a friend who is dealing with this place in life herself. Both of us stand with two paths in front of us: the path of least resistance and more security, and the path of hope and the heart.

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Whilst chatting with her over my paper cup of coffee, she behind the register and me standing to its side, two people began to check out with their groceries and eavesdropped on our musings about life. They said, to us both, that you don’t have to choose, that the right course will become illuminated and just to trust that it will. Trust is something I struggle with, being a lady who likes to plan and problem-solve. How does one trust in the unfolding of one’s path in this great universe of ours? How does one trust in the unfurling of opportunities, knowing the risks of being one of spring’s buds, the new leaf growing outward into the coldness of the spring air? How do you know if summer’s warmth and light is here, or if some new frost will come around and stop your growth in its tracks?

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I suppose that you never truly know anything, in this life. You can plan and plan and plan, and still be surprised. Today, in the midst of a spring rain, I noticed tufts of green grass coming out of the ground that, for months, has been beige-brown and lifeless. I heard, again, new birds in the trees, and watched a loon hunt for fish in the harbor. As I worked, piecing together a necklace so many years in the making, I watched two seagulls fly together, playing in the wind. Tonight, I sit here, at my kitchen table-desk, wondering about what lies ahead, and how to remain grateful and surprised at the opportunities opening up before me. Like the receding ice that has covered the rocks for six months, there are surprises hidden underneath: new joys that are uncovered each day.

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To work!

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