HOPE

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

–Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

 

Summer is always a strange season for me.  It’s the exception to my school year norm, and I am keenly aware of the clock that’s ticking a countdown to the start of the next year; nothing sets a summer teacher off quite like a premature “back-to-school” display at the office supply store.  But while there is an urgency about what I want to accomplish (and grudging acceptance of the fact that my goals are almost certainly too ambitious), the days feel long, long enough for me to come untethered.  I am not in my familiar environs.  I am not on my familiar schedule.  I am wearing jeans each day, as I longed to for nine months, but there are not nearly enough teenagers in my daily life and that is an alien, disconcerting sensation.

 

Perhaps everything is heightened right now because this is not just any summer, but one full of conscious transition.  (After all, how rare is it to know that a particular season is going to change you before it actually does the changing?)  The contrast between my daily concerns and lists, the overwhelm I sometimes feel when mentally scrolling through the tasks involved in selling and buying and packing up houses, and the gut-twisting horror and anguish that lives on the other side of even one minute of fully considering the current news—what do I do with that gulf?  How do I hold any of it responsibly, thoughtfully, compassionately?

 

I really don’t know, and I’m not certain that I ever will; in fact, I might argue that it would mark the detrimental loss of my plugged-in aliveness if I managed to reach some sort of equilibrium with this human mess, to be “okay” in it.  I am not okay.  I don’t want to be okay.  I want to be outraged and outspoken and exhausted but not to the point of being useless.  I want to remain open to the world inspiring me as much as it devastates me.  I want to feel as if I am doing a pretty good job with this living business while also knowing that it will never be enough.

 

There is a distinction between hope and wishful thinking; a friend taught me that a few years ago, and I’ll always be grateful.  I carry that distinction around in my back pocket, pull it out when I am trying to determine which is charting the course of my behavior.  Wishful thinking feels like an escape, like a way out, like a relief.  Hope feels like a practice, like a rigorous discipline, like sitting down to work your way through something difficult but necessary.  Reading smart authors who challenge me gives me hope.  Being in community gives me hope.  Holding brand-new babies gives me hope.  Writing gives me hope.

 

In that vein, I am offering a journal class that begins next week, one that I have designed to hopefully speak to this particular moment, one inside which many of us are struggling and searching.  You can read more about the course here; if you’re interested, I’d love to have you join.  Please note that $5 from each registration will go to the Family Reunification and Bond Fund at RAICES, which you’ve probably heard of by now.  I also plan to make the course materials available for purchase later on in the summer, if you want to work through them on your own or at another time.

 

Tell me you’re reading or thinking about that you’re finding useful these days.  How do you practice hope?

 

 

 

COME WHAT MAY

It’s become kind of a joke with myself, that I wind up teaching about Buddhism right when I myself need to hear about it the most.  For the last four years, I’ve offered a Comparative Religions course, so it’s been my job to introduce high school students to the story of the Buddha and his Four Noble Truths, but it honestly ends it feeling more like a perfectly timed gift, every time.

As you probably already know, one of the core tenants of the Buddhist worldview is impermanence–essentially, that change is the only constant in the universe.  My students and I discuss the extent to which such an understanding, though we can all affirm its truth from life experience, feels negative or like bad news.  In a culture where we write “Never change!” in each other’s yearbooks, the notion that everything in our lives–ourselves included–is subject to change can feel a little scary.

Which is why, each year when the Buddhism unit appears on my lesson plan calendar, I think, “Oh man, I could really use this right now.”  Because the truth is that I could really use it right about anytime.

 

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I’m offering a new writing course for 2018 – Come What May: Navigating Transitions with Grace.  Like my Buddhism unit, it’s a set of materials that I’m excited to share because I’m called to them in my own life.

My sense is that most of us are attentive to the major changes in our lives, the ones with clear outward manifestations–job changes, relationship status changes, births, deaths.  But what of the more subtle changes?  The shifts in self, in perspective, in being?  The ways of thinking that no longer fit, the friendships that feel “off,” the sides of ourselves that we’re seeing for the first time–these are no less worthy of our attention.

I believe that we can learn a great deal by taking the time to examine the changes, both dramatic and subtle, unfolding in our lives and selves.  And I believe that the more we practice this kind of looking, the more intuitive it will become.

Come What May is a weekly course that will run from January 6 – February 10, 2018.  Each week, for six weeks, you’ll receive journal prompts, short readings, and supplementary materials designed to help you take stock of your present state.  This course will also include the opportunity to discuss & share with other participants if you wish.  Cost is $25.

What better way to start the new year than with some self reflection?  I hope you’ll join me!  You can sign up for the course here.

 

BE HERE NOW

For the past four years, I’ve had the deep joy of teaching Creative Writing to high school seniors; during that time, I’ve developed a poetry unit for the class that includes a journaling component.  Because poetry often seems mysterious & inaccessible, I approach the genre by having students read and consider poems in a safe, low-stakes way– via their personal journals.

Along the way, students apply the techniques of poets–keen observation, mental stillness, the search for beauty in the ordinary and every day.  The poetry/journal challenge has quickly become one of my students’ favorite parts of the class.  Over the years, friends and acquaintances have asked to “come along for the ride,” so to speak, submitting their emails to be included on my journal challenge distribution list.  I have loved hearing about their experiences with the prompts and poems, and am gratified to know that it had sparked many people’s memories and sense of creative play.

This year, because of the way Hurricane Harvey has impacted our school schedule, I’m not teaching my poetry unit until second semester.  Still, I wanted to offer a way for folks outside of my classroom to enjoy and appreciate poetry and personal writing this fall.  Hence, I am offering my first (hopefully of many!) journal challenge course, specifically tailored for folks outside my classroom.  It’s called Be Here Now: Gratitude, Poetry, & Presence, and it will run from November 10-24, 2017.  The cost is $15.00- you can learn more about the course and purchase it here.

I am really excited about developing and offering this course–it is designed specifically for people who want to fit some thoughtfulness and creativity into their busy days.  I hope you’ll join me!