CLASS OF 2018

My babies graduated today, and it feels a little bit like I graduated with them.

 

I don’t really know how to talk about these kids, about this year, which is weird, because I can usually find a way to talk about anything.  But I am still processing the last few months of my life; it has been a very difficult year.  I did not plan for this year to be my last at my current school, but, as we all know, rarely do our plans and life align.  And while this is not how I had thought things would go, there is a fitting, if unintentional, symmetry to the transition.  The Class of 2018 was my final group of eighth graders before I moved to teaching in the high school, and they will be my final group of seniors before moving to Arizona.

 

When I first met them as middle schoolers, I told several colleagues that I’d never bonded with a class so quickly.  There was just something about them—their humor, their liveliness, their attentiveness and thoughtfulness.  They were easy to be with, easy to love.  They still are.

 

I know them differently now: better, more deeply.  I know that they are not all sunshine and roses, that there are sides to them that I dislike or that worry me, parts of them that drive me nuts just as I’m certain there are parts of me that do the same.  That’s the beauty of really knowing each other, the thing that has surprised me most about teaching: the way my students contribute to me, not as people adjacent to my life, but as people very much in my life.  This group of humans has been unbelievably generous with me in how they share themselves, even (especially) the parts that can be the hardest to share.  On the page, in person, in a coffee shop in Tel Aviv, their willingness to be vulnerable, to trust me with themselves, still leaves and will always leave me breathless with gratitude.

 

We are all moving on to new places and new adventures, but there are some things that I want to hold onto from this year, from these kids.  The love and compassion they showed me when I was struggling physically and needed to take time away from school for surgery – stop telling me that teenagers are shallow and self-absorbed, because I have the text messages and emails and hand-written cards to prove otherwise.  The way they cheered when I joined them on their senior trip, lining up to hug and welcome me.  The intellectual bravery and personal risk-taking that has inspired me in ways they will never fully know.  It is because of their example that I have been able to envision a new future for myself, to step into this major change, both scary and exciting.

 

So, Class of 2018, thank you for letting me be an honorary member of your graduating class.  I will forever be grateful for all that you have taught and given me, for the opportunity to know you.  I admire the way that you work to align your values and your actions, the way that you care deeply but manage not to take yourselves too seriously.  Each of you has grown so much this year, that painful growth that brings with it self-knowledge and new perspective.  Hold onto what you’ve gained.  Write in your journal every once in a while.  Trust yourself.  Wear sunscreen.  Cite your sources.  Remember that perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.  And know that I love you and I am cheering you on, no matter from how far away.  I can’t wait to see what we all do next.

 

MONDAY MIX (NEW YEAR’S EDITION) – 1/1/18

A few years ago, I attended a conference presentation during which audience members were asked to construct a metaphor to represent our experiences as students.  No one had ever asked me to do this, so I was intrigued, but pretty stumped.  Then I remembered my old boom box, with its radio and dual cassette deck–I always kept a blank tape handy, ready to press “record” whenever something caught my ear.  I realized that I did the same in the classroom, gathering bits and pieces from various sources, often without an idea of how–or even if!–those pieces would fit together. That was the joy of making and sharing mix tapes; when crafted thoughtfully, they were greater than the sum of their parts.  

In that same spirit, I share a weekly “mix” of articles, recipes, book recommendations, and ideas in the hopes that something I share might fit into your own personal, ever-evolving collage. 

Have something you think I might be interested in?  I’d love to hear about it.  Share it here.

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Shiv was born in July 2012; that new year’s was his first night sleeping away from home, spending the night with his Nani (my mother).  New Year’s Day 2013, he had his first taste of solid food – sweet potato.  Since then, it’s become a tradition for him to spend the night with Nani while Jill and I enjoy an evening together.

Last night, as we driving back from our friends’ house (where we’d thoroughly enjoyed a rousing game of Cards Against Humanity), Jill asked me if I had any goals or aspirations for the new year.  We’re not necessarily resolutions people, but for the past few years, I have picked a word or phrase to focus on: 2016 was “discipline” and 2017, “courage.”  But I hadn’t yet thought of what 2018’s might be until Jill asked.

“I want to have more fun this year,” I told her, as we moved through the dark in the truck, the sky around us lit up as people set off backyard fireworks.  When I think about the memories from 2017 that are the most satisfying, what comes to mind are nighttime dance parties with Shiv, playdates with friends and their kids, time spent in art museums, reading, or enjoying delicious meals.  Those are the times when I am the most present and the least in my head.  Those are, as cheesy as it sounds, the times when I feel most alive, like I am living according to what I value: time with the people I love, good conversation about things that matter, learning new things.

So, I’ll be making a new notecard for my bathroom mirror today: MORE FUN.  What about you?

 

-I’m really excited to be offering a new writing course for 2018!  Come What May: Navigating Transitions with Grace is designed to give participants time and space to examine the changes, both big and small, transpiring in their lives.  Course materials will be delivered electronically each Saturday, from January 6 to February 10.  The cost is $25.  I’d love to have you join me if you’re interested.  You can also gift the course to a friend or family member – just leave me a note with their email address when checking out.

Learn more about the course and sign up here!

 

-Sometimes it’s important to take some time to look at beautiful things.  This piece from Edible Brooklyn features the stunning marzipan creations made at Fortunato Brothers, including the traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes, but in marzipan form.  All made by hand and ridiculously beautiful.

 

-I appreciated the message of this piece from LitHub: How Fetishizing ‘Craft’ Can Get In the Way of a Good Poem.   I’ve tried in the last year to be especially mindful of how we English teachers can unwittingly cancel out students’ enjoyment of literature by analyzing it to death, and this was an important reminder to keep an eye on that balance.

 

-In the last week or so, we’ve been the lucky recipients of the generosity of so many friends and family members, who’ve volunteered to help with Shiv, deliver food, run errands, help move furniture, and the like.  The family of two former students arranged to pick Shiv and his best friend up for a joint playdate; when I arrived to pick up the kids, they sent me home with a trunk full of food, including this delicious vegetable lasagna.  I’m not sure I can really articulate how humbling and grace-filled an experience it is to have a young woman whom you’ve known since the eighth grade cook you dinner, but I can say with confidence that I’ll be adding this recipe to our family rotation.

THIS IS 35

Today I am thirty-five years old: the age my mother was when she had me.  Since she’s now seventy, that makes me half her age.  And just about twice the age as my seventeen-and-eighteen-year-old students.

I don’t believe that age means anything inherently, but I also don’t believe it’s “just a number.”  There are appreciable, material changes to my physical being that have made themselves known in my sleep patterns and the color of a few of the hairs on my head.  I’m not complaining–these are pretty low-level changes, but even as I joke about upgrading my skin care regimen, I am acutely aware of how important it will be for me to accept my body’s limitations as I age.  Over the past three years, I’ve watched my wife, Jill, care for her elderly parents; I’ve see firsthand how the refusal to be in reality about one’s physical capabilities creates a terrible burden on caregivers and impacts the quality of life of those who need, but deny that they need, care.  Jill and I are vehemently committed to aging with as much grace and acceptance as we possibly can; we’ve put structures in place to help insure that our son, Shiv, does not end up in the position that we find ourselves.  (I’m definitely the only thirty-five-year-old I know with a long term care insurance policy.)  I know it won’t be simple, that this will be a conversation we return to again and again, to hold ourselves accountable to the lessons that this season of life is teaching us.

As cheesy as it sounds, learning to pay attention to the rhythms and adjustments that different periods of my life have to offer has become my overall M.O.  Not saying that I’ve got it down pat, but I’ve definitely deepened my capacity to sit with difficulty, to recognize the growth opportunity it brings, and to hold onto the knowledge that I will never, ever be done growing.  Just when I think that I’m in pretty good shape, something comes along to humble and remind me that this human work is the real work.

In thirty-five years, I’ve done a lot of school, over a decade’s worth of teaching, written two books, adopted a child, watched a parent die, and spent fifteen-and-a-half years in partnership with the most incredible person I know.  So while I know thirty-five won’t seem significant to some–I’ve had several folks recently tell me “Oh, you’re still so young” or “You’re just a baby!”–it feels like something to me.  I’ve lived a lot of life in these years, made a bunch of mistakes, learned a shit-ton.  I really like who I am and am proud of the fact that my life has been shaped by my own hands and my reactions to circumstances.

Because I work with teenagers, I am extra-sensitive to the fact that wisdom does not necessarily come with age; I know a lot of eighteen-year-olds who are a heck of a lot wiser than a lot of so-called “adults.”  It’s unfair to discount someone else’s life experience simply because they are younger than you; theirs is still a full and complex life, no matter what the age.  With my students, I work to be extra-mindful never to discount or discredit their experience or to act as if I know better.  Maybe I have a bit more practice as this being a human business, but I’m nowhere near mastering it.  They often have just as much (if not more) to teach me than I have to teach them.

So, I figure today is as good as any to reflect on where I’ve been, where I am, and where I hope to go.  I know enough to know that life is indeed what happens when you’re busy making other plans, so I’ve mostly forgone the planning for intentions and imaginings.  I’ve learned to lean into and trust the inklings and inclinations that tug at my gut even though I cannot rationally determine how they might fit into the future.  And I’ve gotten a bit better at remaining present in the moment–being right here, right now, and recognizing this precious life for what it is: a privilege and a joy.  I hope I get to keep doing it for a while longer.

In the spirit of birthdays & wisdom, here’s a completely arbitrary list of 35 things I’ve learned, in no particular order:

  1. Never trust people who are rude to waiters or other folks in the service industry.  Associate yourself instead with generous tippers.
  2. Wear sunscreen, even when you think you don’t need it.  Even if you’re brown.
  3. Marry someone smarter than you.  Dinner table conversation will never be boring, and you will spend your life learning from and with your spouse.
  4. Grief is a sneaky, tricksy, & utterly devastating beast.  Never underestimate it.
  5. It’s worth spending money and being inconvenienced to be present at the weddings of your closest friends.
  6. You are not what you own.
  7. You are not what you produce.
  8. You are not what you look like.
  9. Feelings are real, but they aren’t always true.
  10. Depression and anxiety are liars, and they will trick you into believing all kinds of things.  They will dig a hole so deep that you can’t climb out of it alone; go get help.  Do not be ashamed of needing it.
  11. Give genuine and extravagant compliments.  It’s always worth whatever awkwardness you feel you may be risking.
  12. No matter how poor you are, don’t sell your books.
  13. The people in your life cannot read your mind.  No matter how obvious you think you’re being, they will not know how you feel until or unless you tell them.
  14. When the idea of something (especially some sort of change), scares you, in a thrilling sort of way, that’s a pretty good sign that you should go for it.
  15. If you don’t know your values, you can’t live according to them.
  16. Always do what you say you’re going to do.  Be reliable.
  17. Lying to impress people makes you feel like trash.
  18. The people whom you think have it all together?  They don’t.  I promise.
  19. No one ever regretted getting a thank-you note in the mail.
  20. No one ever regretted saving for retirement, either.
  21. Trader Joe’s makes the best shave cream.  It’s honey mango, smells amazing, and protects my very sensitive skin.  I recommend.
  22. Stop saying “yes” to things you don’t actually want to do.
  23. Real friends don’t care if your floor is clean or not.
  24. If you were wrong or if you screwed up, apologize.  Do it for real, do it well, don’t make excuses.  People will respect you for it.
  25. Keep good-quality butter out on room temperature.  Major life upgrade.
  26. If you were raised in a trauma or violence-free home, you have an incredible advantage over others who didn’t.  You’d be amazed at how many others didn’t.
  27. Following major life events (a birth, a death, an illness), support tends to drop off about four to six weeks later.  That’s when you can really make yourself useful by leaving some food in a cooler on the porch, or asking when you can come hold the baby so a parent can go take a shower or making plans to get your grieving friend out of the house.
  28. Librarians are heroes, and they really love answering questions and solving problems.  Utilize them!  It’s probably the best thing your taxes pay for.
  29. Go vote.  Even if you feel cynical about it.  Just go.
  30. Don’t lie to children, because they always know.
  31. The people we love will invariably, at some point in our life, disappoint us.  And we will disappoint them, sometimes without even realizing it.  Once we’re made aware, the best we can do is take responsibility and work to do better in the future.  When someone else does this for you, forgive them.
  32. Strong marriages do not happen by accident.  Contrary to what all the songs say, love is, in fact, not enough.  You’re gonna have to do some work.
  33. If you witness a friend treat another friend badly, be prepared for them to do that to you someday, too.  It’s just a matter of time.
  34. Be honest with your partner(s) in bed.  It’s worth it.
  35. “Every day, you have less reason / not to give yourself away.” – Wendell Berry