Home

Saturation

9 Comments

SATURATION

Nine hours of interstate and my car sloshes into the two muddy ruts that pass for a driveway. I step out into the rain expecting the usual scent of pine, but am instead blessed by a breeze saturated with lilac and lily of the valley.

I am early this year — I’ve never seen the lilacs bloom; never seen the lily fronds petaled with fallen apple and quince blossoms.

Birdbath with apple blossoms

It must have been raining for days. The bushes and trees hang heavily, and the ground is soggy beneath my bare feet as I traipse back and forth, back and forth through the wet grass, blue jeans rolled to my knees, carrying my cats, my books, my cooler, my clothes.

Unpacked, I return to the car and head to the spring in the glistening dusk. I drive slowly, windows open, and breathe.

And breathe.

Every small hollow is full of water and bursting with song. I’ve never heard the spring peepers here, either, and I swerve drunkenly to miss the scores of sex-crazed frogs leaping wildly across the road.

Across from the spring, bits of mist drift down the dark mountain and promise a heavy morning fog. Below, the Ashuelot River dances giddily along its banks dressed in decorative white foam, as if rushing to a rendezvous downstream.

I fill my bottles with fresh water and nature fills my soul with springtime scents and songs.

I am here.

 

 

Moving Van

2 Comments

MOVING VAN:

My neighbor Van is moving. I was surprised to find myself fighting back tears yesterday when he stopped by to bid farewell. I have several real friends “on the hill” here in New Hampshire, but I’d considered Van more of an acquaintance — the guy who owns the pet cemetery down the road. I had not realized that I actually love the old fellow.

Over the years, I’ve spent countless hours sitting on the porch of Van’s little barn chatting about this and that, because that’s what folks up here do. This and that is front and center. Weather, wells, winters, tractors, pig slop, poison ivy . . . this and that.

Van occasionally beckons me inside the barn, a  country-style man cave, where he offers me a Budweiser and shows me his newest acquisitions, treasures like chicken-slaughtering implements, giant broken freezers that he’s going to fix one day, or burlap bags he’s stitched together to hold turkey feed.

We stroll in his garden and he points out what’s coming up and where the bugs have gotten to the squash and would I like some mint and basil? He shows me the latest improvements to his outdoor rainwater shower that he’s cobbled together from plastic pipe and a rusted industrial drum that once held God-knows-what.

Every week or so, I hear, “Anybody home?” and there he is at the back door, hands full of fresh eggs, cucumbers, and tomatoes. Occasionally he forgets I’m a vegetarian and brings me fresh bloody chicken breasts which I graciously accept and then quietly pass on to my other neighbors.

So that’s our relationship.

That, and politics.

Because here’s the thing: Van is a conservative. And not just a conservative, but a Trump-loving, NRA-supporting, “live free or die” New Hampshire conservative. The kind I’ve spent my entire environmental career fighting against. And I love him anyway. We tease each other, purposely provoke outrage, and shake our heads at our battling bumper stickers. And we laugh. Van has a glorious laugh.

Maybe that’s why I’m so sad that he’s leaving. In the time of trump, I wonder — will friendships like ours ever again be able to take root and grow?

My Friend

 

Meddlesome Voices

7 Comments

MEDDLESOME VOICES

I know a few folks for whom meddling in other’s lives is a full-time endeavor. They are certain that they know best, and they become frustrated or angry when their targets don’t follow their wise guidance on everything from the best butter substitute to a choice of careers to what one’s relationship with the Divine should look like.

You know these people, too. Perhaps you are one them. You may think you are being helpful or kind or even a martyr on someone else’s behalf. But if you are doing for someone else what they could do for themselves or trying to influence choices that are not yours to make, you are meddling.

Manipulating, even.

Ouch! Isn’t that an awful word? When I discovered that many of my interactions with others could easily fall under the category of manipulation — trying to get someone to believe or act in a way that might make me more comfortable — I cringed. I’ve worked hard to overcome this trait, which I learned from my family. I now have a permanent groove in my tongue where I bite it. This practice will remain necessary unless and until I finally believe that I do not, in fact, know best.

I have enough challenges managing my own life. I do not need “extra credit” for managing the lives of others. Even if they seem willing or eager for me to make their decisions for them.

Which brings me to something that can be even more destructive than those who meddle in other people’s lives: those who allow others to meddle in their own lives.

Letting Your Life Speak

I’m in the midst of making an important decision that could affect me heavily for the next few years at least. It’s a vocational type of decision: how do I spend my daily-dwindling time here on earth? Where do I invest my emotional energy? How do I employ the expertise and experience I’ve garnered thus far?

As Quaker author and activist Parker Palmer writes, “The deepest vocational question is not ‘What ought I to do with my life?’ It is the more elemental and demanding, ‘Who am I? What is my nature?’”

Whenever I’m faced with a major decision in this realm, I re-read Parker’s book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. There’s an astonishing amount of wisdom in this little hundred-page book, and it’s one of those reads that offers deeper and different wisdom with each visit.

One of Parker’s main points is that we are all born with a true self, a true nature, and then sadly, “From our first days in school, we are taught to listen to everything and everybody but ourselves,” gleaning who we are  “. . . from the people and powers around us.” Meddlesome voices. 

All of our institutions train us “away from true self towards images of acceptability . . . we ourselves, driven by fear, too often betray true self to gain the approval of others.”

This is a great weakness of mine, a painful “thorn in my flesh.” I know I’m not the only one with this need to please and a burdensome desire for recognition and esteem. Millions of true selves are being trampled by stampeding egos chasing the values of others rather than discerning and honoring their own.

My first inclination when faced with a big decision is to read books, talk to friends, and ponder possible scenarios to imagine how they might appear to others. In other words, to look outside myself. That’s all fine. It’s raw material.

But I must be careful that I don’t end up using another’s navigational system rather than my own inner compass. My “inner light,” as the Quakers call it. I need to get down to the business of prayer, meditation, journaling, and connecting with God in nature, because those are my channels for a voice that is “different than the ‘I’ of daily consciousness, a life that is trying to live through the ‘I’ who is its vessel,” as Parker describes it.

This means tuning out all the well-meaning (or not) meddlesome voices — past, present, and imagined future — and letting your own life speak.

 

“Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.”  — Parker Palmer

The Power of Words

Leave a comment

Frederick Buechner wrote in one of his memoirs that “My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours.”

Or as Anne Lamott said last night, we want to say, “Me, too!”

The power of words to connect us seems to be a theme at this third annual Frederick Buechner Writer’s Workshop at Princeton Seminary. At this morning’s keynote, author Diana Butler Bass referenced “the tender power of I,” suggesting that the word “I” connects us to one another and to God. When Moses said, “Here I am,” and God said, “I AM,” it connected them and placed them on sacred ground.

Dogwood on sacred grounds of Princeton Theological Seminary

Many times as Diana told her personal story, I found myself thinking, “Me, too!” Her journey along “the road to an unexpected vocation” resonated with me and made me feel just a little less crazy for chasing this writing dream.

“Writing is a spiritual path,” she said. “Cherish your own path . . . Who are you? To me, that is the central question writers must struggle with.”

Writing Good Into the World

As intimate and personal as writing can be — especially memoir writing — there is also a strong communal element to it. Who am I in the world? What is my calling? How can I be of help?

I don’t know if it’s the spiritual nature of this conference or the dire times we live in or both, but this sense of mission and calling seems to be another big theme this week. 

Like Anne Lamott, Diana expressed “deep distress” over what’s going on in America. She thinks it’s a critical time for people of faith to “write for the world” as a way to counteract evil and inspire people.

“We are living in the age of the anti-word,” she said. “There is evil surrounding words right now . . . amazing technology that could spread beauty is instead being used to spread evil. Words are being purposefully used to undermine truth and beauty and wholeness . . . Malevolent forces are taking words and using them for oppression.”

Diana urged the two hundred-plus people crammed into the auditorium this morning to “write to reach people’s hearts” and to “engage intentionally to build goodness and beauty and to embody the Word.”

“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” John 1:1

Things Are Looking Up For This Substitute Teacher

10 Comments

THINGS ARE LOOKING UP FOR THIS SUBSTITUTE TEACHER

It’s only fair that I should share my good news with you, after all the angst I’ve dumped since beginning my new adventure as a substitute teacher. Today I found my sweet spot — with the five-year-olds.

The initial shock & trauma brought on by six days of “teaching” a rambunctious first and second grade class lessened after a week of recovery. I read several books on classroom management in the interim. I then subbed for a few days with a different class of the same age group, and I could tell I was learning some of the tricks of the trade. We saw a play in DC and watched a dance recital, so there were perks, but I still came away feeling that I had been pummeled and crushed and mangled and tossed in the dumpster each afternoon.

I spent one dreadful day administering math tests to fifth graders which made me feel cruel as I watched my fellow non-math compatriots wriggle and sigh and twirl their hair and bounce their legs and stare into space and flunk the test. I knew exactly how they felt. I’ve been there. Heck, if I hadn’t spent the night before practicing fraction equations, I couldn’t have passed it either.

Returning to the Fray

So it was with great trepidation that I returned to school for the first of three days with a dozen kindergartners. I was still wondering if I had misconstrued various spiritual “promptings” regarding this new direction.

I began to put into practice advice from my newly acquired Substitute Teacher Handbook (thanks, R!) such as, “A ratio of one negative to eight positive interactions is recommended.” My time spent poring over the list of “101 Ways to Say ‘Good Job!’” was well worth it. (Though I had to laugh at “Out of sight!” Has anyone said that since 1969?)

I also immediately identified the kid who was going to be trouble (it’s in the eyes and the dimples) and recruited him to be my “special helper.”

Surprisingly, this technique worked like a charm: “The most effective strategy for keeping students on-task is for the teacher to walk around the classroom in a random pattern.” I’m actually pretty good at wandering aimlessly, so this successful “strategy” came easily.

Perhaps it’s not going to be rocket science.

A Full Heart

I touch the kids a lot, pat their heads, rub their shoulders, high-five their little hands. And it turns out it’s OK to smile at kindergartners, whereas smiling at second graders is a major show of weakness and is asking for trouble.

I have a photo of the moment I knew I was in the right place. My little people filed outside for recess and burst onto the playground, only to be stopped in their tracks by the most fascinating and astounding thing they had ever encountered! A major event!

The jungle gym, swing set and sandbox sat empty as the whole class gathered in wonderment around . . . a dead worm being eaten by ants. I joined their circle.

After recess I read them a book called Ten Things You Can Do to Help the Earth and we talked about worms and mice and compost and strawberries. During our afternoon “Meeting for Worship” (it’s a Quaker school), we pondered the question: “Why do I love nature?”

My heart is full tonight. 

Related posts:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2017/03/16/was-this-teaching-thing-all-a-mistake/

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2017/03/17/the-continuing-adventures-of-a-new-substitute-teacher/

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2017/03/30/end-of-chapter-one-substitute-teacher/

 

 

Dear Prudence: Meet My Hidden Personality

Leave a comment

DEAR PRUDENCE: MEET MY HIDDEN PERSONALITY

You haven’t met Prudence. A few years ago, I introduced you to my multiple personalities — the confused and frightened kids who live inside me and with whom I have largely made peace. Occasionally, their fears still knock me off-center and cause me to lose my inner calm. My therapist has taught me to ask myself, “What part of me is afraid?” and then I can soothe that particular aspect of my being.

I won’t tell you all of my coping skills because I suspect you already think I’m flaky enough, but for instance, if “Sport” is afraid, I can work in the garden. She likes to be outside and get dirty. She likes earthworms and roly-poly bugs. She’s seven.

If “Whisper” is afraid, I can play the piano or sit down and listen to classical music. She learned to play the piano loud when dysfunctional family chaos upset my eleven year-old self.

My teenage self, “Cat,” is the hardest to soothe because she is tough and she’d rather die than admit she is afraid and you can’t teach her anything anyway. Driving really fast makes her feel better, but this is not ideal. She likes banging on the drum.

Careful of the cat

At the time I revealed my inner children to you, I was not aware of Prudence. That’s the thing about her. She is secretive. She is mistrustful and extraordinarily protective of “ourselves.” I think that she directs some of the other kids, though I’m not certain. She’s very strong.

I’ll never forget when I discovered Prudence. I was with my therapist, who asked,

“What part of you is driving that behavior?”

That’s usually fairly simple to figure out, but after a long while, I was still baffled. “I’m not sure who it is. It’s different energy.”

And she said, “Is there another one?” I nodded. She said, “Does she have secrets?” I nodded again. “What’s her name?” she asked.

“I don’t know.”

But the moment I walked out of the office and into the flowering courtyard, the song “Dear Prudence” came to me in its entirety, and I knew that was her name.

Dear Prudence, won’t you come out to play

Dear Prudence, greet the brand new day

The sun is up, the sky is blue

It’s beautiful and so are you

Dear Prudence won’t you come out to play

♥ ♥ ♥ 

Dear Prudence open up your eyes

Dear Prudence see the sunny skies

The wind is low the birds will sing

That you are part of everything

Dear Prudence won’t you open up your eyes?

♥ ♥ ♥

Dear Prudence let me see you smile

Dear Prudence like a little child

The clouds will be a daisy chain

So let me see you smile again

Dear Prudence won’t you let me see you smile?

Prudence doesn’t smile. She doesn’t come out to play. She mistrusts sun and birdsong and daisy chains. She doesn’t want to be “part of everything.” Life is a serious, treacherous business for Prudence because someone has to be the cautious, watchful one. The prudent one.

Prudence knows that at any moment your perfectly loving father can have one too many glasses of brown stuff and turn into a monster. One day your mother will defend you, one day she will not.

Stay hidden. Trust no one.

The election of President Tweet traumatized all of my inner children. It caught the whole world off-guard. But not Prudence. She could have told you. She always knew a mentally unstable, dangerous man might become president and threaten the future of our country and the planet.

Prudence doesn’t want to be comforted. She has work to do.

♦ ♦ ♦

** Please read this disclaimer about Dissociative Personality Disorder (DID) which I do not have.

** Thanks for the writing prompt: prudent.

End of Chapter One: Substitute Teacher

5 Comments

END OF CHAPTER ONE: SUBSTITUTE TEACHER 

My first stint as a substitute teacher — with absolutely no training, mind you — ended as painfully as it began.

Fortunately, nobody got physically hurt. But after a week of wrestling (sometimes literally) with a gaggle of rowdy second grade boys who were testing every limit they could find, something had to give.

My back was the first to go, then my weak ankle, and finally my patience. Consequently, I started my fateful last day with an apology to a little girl I had screamed at the day before. I explained to the whole class that I had never been a teacher before and they were my very first class.

“So I’m trying something new, and we are all doing our best, right?” I concluded.

“But you have kids, don’t you?” asked the precocious little girl to whom I had apologized. I told her I did not. This seemed to shock them all into silence as they reflected on their discovery that not all grown-ups are parents. What on earth are big people for if they aren’t parents?

My purposeful vulnerability and honesty — a big risk — seemed to help. Everyone calmed down and paid more attention to my directions. We got on famously for about ninety minutes. We were all excited about going to watch the sixth-grade class doing a dress rehearsal of Beauty and the Beast.

This break in the routine meant I did not have to teach math (yes, I even have math anxiety about addition and subtraction), and I thought it would be a treat for the children.

The Saint and the Beasts

I did not realize what “a break in the routine” means for kids this age. It is not a good thing. I learned the importance of routine when my Mom had dementia, and the same rules apparently apply to kids, especially those struggling with behavioral and emotional problems.

When we got back from the play, one of the boys raced to the classroom, pushed in the button on the door knob, and slammed the door. We were all locked out in the hall. Mortifying substitute-teacher moment. The children thought this was a major crisis and got all riled up, but the head of the lower school came to our rescue, unlocked the door and calmed them down.

She also told the class they were lucky I was a saint.

The rest of the day was a test of my sainthood as the kids got increasingly loud and aggressive. Several boys got in trouble for fighting on the playground at recess, and the “take a break” corners were full all afternoon. Then, as we prepared for dismissal, two boys strapped their backpacks to their bellies and began charging into each other like bulls, careening around the room and endangering the other kids who were obediently sitting in our “closing circle” on the floor.

I did not yell this time. I merely took both boys by the shoulders, escorted them to the door and told them to go to the front office and tell them why they had been banished.

Another student told me that those boys “are not known for doing what they’re told,” so I looked down the hall and saw that they had been collared by the woman who had dubbed me a saint. I guess her patience was thin, too. She suspended both boys.

I was devastated.

Who suspends a second grader?? This could scar them for life!! They were already struggling! They would end up in jail or drug addicts or worse!! What had I done??

I knew the teacher I was replacing would be unhappy. She loves those kids. And so did I, as it turned out. 

Perspective

I came home feeling like a total failure.

“I almost made it,” I wailed to my neighbor J, relating how I had sent the kids to the front office a mere ten minutes before the end of my six-day adventure.

“No, you *did* make it,” she said. “The boys are the ones who almost made it.”

“But I got them suspended!”

“No,” J said again. “They got themselves suspended.”

Oh. Right.

Last night, I dug out my books on codependency, a mindset which among other things causes you to think that you know what’s best for everyone else and that you can “save” everyone and are responsible for doing so.

“My God, I’m completely codependent with second-grade boys,” I said to a friend. “I just felt so powerless to help them.”

“You did help them,” she said. “You kept them safe, and you taught them that there are consequences for their actions. You gave them time to think.”

Thank the Lord that I have time to think, too.

I need some distance and perspective. And if I’m going to teach, I need some much stronger emotional boundaries.

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: