SOL Tuesday: Mentor Texting

My mind is awash with so many ideas and connections from things I’ve read and talked about.

I’ve been reading, devouring actually, books by Kwame Alexander. Over the weekend I read The Crossover once for myself then a second time aloud with my 11 y-o. I quickly went on to finish Rebound and on Monday picked up another title, Booked, which instead of basketball-focused, has soccer and futsal as its athletic backdrop. If you’re not yet familiar with Alexander’s work, he is credited with motivating young people across North America and in Asia to take up the writing habit with enthusiasm. His read-in-a-day novels in verse offer even reluctant readers compelling stories that come to life on the page.

While I was reading Rebound in particular I was struck by his portrayal of the main character’s grandparents. They are practical, down to earth folks who provide their struggling grandson just the right mix of firm expectations and gentle care. They are not mythical creatures. For me their characters rang so very true and real, like some of the Black elders I knew when I was growing up. This led me on a further tangent: Thinking about reading Black elders in current fiction and non-fiction and how I take these messages in as a middle aged woman on her way to becoming a Black elder. I have Brown Girl Dreaming by Jackie Woodson, Heavy by Kiese Laymon and Thick by Tressie McMillan Cottom on my mind.

I’m pretty sure there’s an essay that wants to surface from that line of thinking: “Reading Black Elders” or “Finding mentor elders in unlikely places.”

Another thing that reading Alexander’s dynamic narratives has done for me: it has made me want to work on my own memoir in a similar format. Showing without telling all; Details revealed in simple lines rather than complex shading and texture. For my process that means shaking words out of my keyboard quickly rather than worrying too much about crafting the total image. It’s easy to get bogged down in what feels awkward or out of place. For now my aim is to just write past those reservations and produce as much as possible. The paring down, smoothing edges and blowing away dust, that will come later.

I can do this. Doing it is worthwhile. How the product turns out is a different story.

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SOL Tuesday: Numbered Moments

Moment #1: I just finished grocery shopping and after dropping my bag off in the car, walked to the bank around the corner to hit the ATM. As I looked around that familiar corner – the bike shop, the bar, the cafe, the tram stop – I had a sudden and inexplicable desire to be wearing a black T-shirt with “Nope.” written in big bold white letters.

I want that T-shirt now. A “Nope.” T-shirt. It could become my singular mood wardrobe.

Moment #2: I’m making dinner in the kitchen and serving up a lot of compromise. Frozen veggies with a few fresh veggies tossed in to ward off potential feelings of sub-optimal nutrition provision guilt. I choose a few pieces of cauliflower which offers the added joy of looking like brain cross-sections when you cut them through the middle of the flower. When dinner is over I wash a few plastic containers and the frying pan in hot hot soapy water. I feel useful and above reproach.

Moment #3: I went to work with a cold.*  But I didn’t feel sick. In fact, I managed the day quite well. In the afternoon during track practice I took a small crew of girls off campus up into the woods for some trail running. Slow jogging, a recovery jaunt following a competition weekend for some. There I was, leading the pack, offering short breaks, dosing the steep hill sections, encouraging them along. I still had my cold but couldn’t feel it. Instead I felt trusted and appreciated and less tired than when I spent the day before in bed.

Moment #4: I pick up a book by my bedside that has been waiting for my attention for weeks. I read the foreword and it resonates. I take in the acknowledgements and they all have a home in my mind. I see I was not ready until now to really understand what this book and all it wants to accomplish is about. The right book will wait until we’re ready.

 

*Rereading this I am struck by a possible alternative meaning: “I went to work with a cold” as if it had been an offer I decided to take the cold up on. Uh…weird.

SOL Tuesday: First Day Back and New Phrases

It feels like I never really left, my SOL streak, I mean.

It’s already Tuesday. Time to insert a new rhythm. Let’s see what comes out. A few unusual terms came up for me today. Let me elaborate.

Sleepy knees – used to describe a middle school athlete’s sprinting technique. “You could be faster,” I suggested, “if you would pick up your knees a bit higher. Right now you have sleepy knees. Tell them to wake up!” I say this as I demonstrate the knee motion I want him to produce. His knees on the next run are in fact a bit more perky and responsive. That’s progress. I’ll take it.

Sneaky spinach – this is the green veggie I was able to smuggle into this evening’s chili. When my 11 y-o notices and asks, it’s actually no big deal. I think we’re both grateful that mixed in with spicy beans, ground beef, tomato sauce and onions you can hardly taste it.

Communication debt – this is my sense of dread and regret at not contacting or responding to someone I care about. I’m in communication debt. I owe them a call, e-mail, text or all of the above. Guilt by another name.

Willfully obtuse – two words I used to describe a student whose behavior upset me and then demonstrated zero social comprehension of what he did that was problematic. I suspect I will find more uses for this phrase in the future.

Maybe I should start collecting my special phrases. Oh, I guess I have started.

SOL#31 Last Dance

Remember Donna Summer’s “Last Dance”? Signature disco hit of the ’80s? It starts off slow with a hint of melancholy, then builds to a stirring crescendo of fever pitch “dance now, die later” emotion. Now as I describe it, I realize how much I love this song and all the memories it activates.

It’s March 31st and we’ve reached the end of this daily writing challenge. How will we go out? Dancing and singing? Strolling and contemplative? How do we see ourselves now? What changed?

I am currently out of my comfort zone. Today I’m on a mountain, high up where skiers’ paths cross and one lift leads to another. Let’s be clear: I do not ski. I have tried a few times but it never became my jam. My husband and both sons ski, though. So taking the big lift all the way up with my husband and our 11 y-o, I finally admitted to being scared.

One piece involves just riding on the 4 seated lift, high above snow covered slopes. A second aspect is more complicated and difficult to convey. It has to do with belonging and purpose. I’m up here but without skis or the ability to ski. Do I belong here? Where may I tread without endangering myself or others? This of course leads to all manner of inadequacies that surface just from feeling out of place.

At the same time I notice that it means a lot to my husband for me to see what he sees, to take in the magnificence of these Alpine panoramas I will never view from the valley. It means a lot to him that I see him with our son, conquering the slopes with remarkable grace and speed (although I will probably not see them actually, I have a picture in my mind’s eye.).

So being here is both humbling and enlightening and in this way, a fitting close to this year’s Slice of Life challenge. I leave this month’s work both humbled and enlightened, grateful for the many lessons and generous connections. Thanks to so many of you who have made this trip incredibly rewarding and instructive.

SOL#30 Where I am

First of all, I’m on a walk. In the Alps. I’m walking through a mountain meadow alone. It’s beautiful, it’s sunny and I have a full panorama view of mountains before me. This is where I am.

It’s also true that in my mind I am perhaps a thousand other places. I’m thinking about all the things I’ve read in the last 24 hours and they’ve led me on so many different journeys. I’m thinking about inequality in classrooms. I’m thinking about racism and how it expresses itself across the globe. I’m thinking about the fact that I’m walking through the Alps alone as a black woman, as an immigrant in Austria and what this all means how this is all connected.

I’m thinking too about where I am in my life: no longer young and not yet very old, but closer to old than young, I think.

I’m thinking about what it means to enjoy the multitude of privileges that I do.

I am walking in the midst of abundance: clean air, fresh water, green space. From meadow to forest, back to meadows again, mountains in the distance, mountains up close, I can see all of that. How did I get here?

This is where I am.

SOL #29 Quick write of words and sounds

Woke up thinking about how you can hear the “scare” in scarcity and how much fear is built into the idea of not having enough.

I can appreciate “low” in mellow even if it’s without “me”.

Listen for the reach in screech although you cannot actually see it.

You can recognize callousness without making a “call” to account.

It’s good to know that carbohydrates have nothing to do with cars or water but still deliver power.

The months of March and May give us verbs that we rarely think to use in that way.

That slice contains lice is not news nor newsworthy. Seems like a good place to

stop.

 

SOL #28 The Joy of Curses

Yesterday I felt like I hit the SOL jackpot. Two posts that spoke to me, inspired me and one that had me laughing out loud with real volume.

The first was Julie Fellmayer’s post on JOMO – The Joy of Missing Out. She talks about retreating from social engagements for a weekend, or at the end of the school day as a form of self-care. She explores the various ways this choice might be interpreted by others and how she has arrived at her own firm position. I couldn’t have agreed more heartily with her take. An added bonus was finding so many fellow commenters who shared that agreement. For me it felt as if I found my SOL crowd: Understated introverts, I’ll call us.

The post I read after that quite simply made my night. Amanda Potts shared the fruits of her test-proctoring-annoyance-relief labors: a tremendously inventive collection of curses. Curses? you ask. Yes, curses! What you would wish only on your enemies and never on yourself. The idea, the occasion, the execution all deserve 10 out of 10! Here are two of my favorites:

May your pizzas all be gluten-free.
May your ice cream be ice milk.

I was laughing so loudly that my husband asked from another room if I was OK. Also I was so charmed by the idea of writing curses that I cannot wait to incorporate the idea into a course I’m leading this summer. And once again in the comment section I ran into folks who again have made my month of slicing such a joy.