Beach Writes, vol. 1

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A little something I wrote while away on vacation, about letting go. I wrote some others, but just sharing this one for now. It doesn’t have a title because I don’t always like committing to titles for my poems/ prose. Titles always seem so final; so dramatic… and in this case, anything I came up with seemed to even further dramatize the act of writing poetry on the beach (lol). Genuinely, though, I was very grateful to have space and time last week to write in my petit Parisian notebook. 🙂


“Let go,” insists Dignity

“But why?” implores the heart

“It’s time,” repeats Reason

“I told you so,” chimes Judgement

“But what if…” begins Hope —

“Trust me,” nudges Experience.

“But I’m afraid,” reminds Fear.

“I know,” assures Tomorrow, “But you needn’t be.”

“Thank you,” smiles Faith.

“Next time can be different,” flirts Possibility.

“I hope you’re right,” sighs the heart.

“Fingers crossed,” exhales Memory, ever the fool for Love.


-me 🙂

Over/ Sharing

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It’s been a long while. Just over two years, in fact. This hiatus has largely has been due to beginning full-time work; a flawless interception by (pre-)Adulthood. As is the case with most new teachers, more of my energy over the past two years went to handing students tissues and telling them it wasn’t a good time to go to the bathroom than personal pursuits like blogging, but now that I’ve got some vacation time, I’m here. I’m (mostly) clear. And I’m writing.

Also during these past two years, I leaned more in to less-permanent art forms, mainly improv, which, as an exercise in mindfulness and detachment is, for me, unparalleled. It’s a way to share, both simultaneously with commitment and without permanence. That’s a post for another time.

There’s another reason why blogging became less of a priority for me in recent years. On some levels, I relapsed into a former state of conflict about the nature and value of sharing. Despite the indisputable reality that this is the society we live in now – that there’s ne’er a meal left un-instagrammed – I’ve still maintained a somewhat critical stance about when and how to share. I find when I’m unsure of how others would respond (i.e. with likes/ comments) I’m reticent. I feel cringey about selfies. Why it’s more legitimate to me if someone else has taken the picture, I’m not sure. I’m talking about myself here; you do you. I’ll see myself out.

I go through waves with this. In 2015, I blogged for 25 days straight. In order to do this, I allowed myself the space and non-judgement to post whatever struck me that day. Some posts were well received and friends graciously told me about it. Some were less so. Whether someone commented or liked, in checking my stats, I saw that people were reading my words, and that was very validating. For the most part, I did try to offer something with my posts, because I still find expression for the sake of expression a bit dicey at times.

The other part of me says, eloquently: “Just do whatever the hell you want.”

However, I think the consideration of motivation is important, particularly because if we’re not acting consciously, we risk falling into patterns that can be detrimental or alienating (e.g. feeling nervous at the prospect of too few ‘likes’). The ubiquitous and ever-available nature of social media is two-sided: on the one hand, if something you post is met with little acknowledgement, you can just try again; better luck next time, champ. On the other, for those with a bit less self-control, it’s easy to fall into the rabbit hole of attention seeking or near-daily selfies for the sake of selfies. Can you tell I’m uncomfortable with selfies? As an aside, I also feel like memes have more recently devolved into random expressions of nostalgia in the style of: “Like if you ever had velcro shoes.” While I should hope we can do better in terms of content, why should I care? The fact that I once had velcro shoes should bind me to these memers, not tear us apart. Ugh. Sorry, but mostly not sorry.

Being involved in the arts community, I observe people who have unique relationships with sharing. Some people highly curate what they share; others seem to express little to no doubt about the legitimacy of what they’re putting out. Creating and sharing art is simultaneously an exercise in vulnerability and a demand to be seen. For the most part, I salute any self-expression as long as it’s made with intention – to give, to communicate, to make someone feel something, whether joy or pain – and if it’s meant to destabilize, that it’s at least done so with an educative or reflective purpose in mind.

Being a teacher (and side comedian) comes with a practical reality in terms of sharing. An aspiring Gerry Dee I am not. While it’s true in any profession that your online persona can get you in trouble, there’s a pointed sense of caution engrained into you when you become a teacher that your completely legitimate partaking in adult activities (e.g. drinking alcohol or wearing a bathing suit), could get you fired.

At our final staff meeting this past week, we were reminded of and asked to consider the notion that the most significant factor in whether a child will learn and succeed is the quality of the relationships they experience at school. In relationship with others, we’re asking to be seen. To be acknowledged. While I experience my own inner-conflict with the legitimacy of sharing – posing questions like: Am I offering something? Does it help anyone? Am I asking for attention? – I know that we’re all given a voice, and that if I can feel the power of a child sharing their voice with me, then of course I can exercise the value of my own.

I know this isn’t rocket science. People post about experiences, people, and things that they love. The platforms are there to be used with little thought. Why question and filter my love for a pet, or a flower I got, or the taco I’m about to eat?

While the bridge between valuing independence and remaining connected is one I pace over often, I’m looking to lean more on and enjoy the view of the side of non-judgement. Blogging daily was helpful in terms of worrying less about whether people would respond, and even less so about whether the algorithm overlords were treating my posts as worthy of fair and just distribution.

So, with no regular rhythm, I’m looking to get back to this space:

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-me 🙂

I Got A Gift Last Weekend

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I got a gift last weekend.

First, you should know; we’ve got a history of being packrats in my house. The thing is, every time I find myself lamenting this habit of ours and trying to get rid of things, one to two weeks later I’ll find myself in need of a superfluous sock for a puppet, or a tacky ruby ring, or some other obscure item that I’d just recently foolishly thrown away or donated, thinking I no longer needed it. In fact, less than a month ago I wore a black cape that I’d been keeping since Grade 3 to work. It was Fairy Tale Day, and I dressed as the Evil Queen from Snow White in disguise. It occurs to me that much of my pack-ratting pays off in my theatrical and dramatic pursuits. Aaaaanyways…

My mom and I have been cleaning a lot, and as a result, we’ve been stumbling upon some sometimes funny and revealing items we’ve managed to keep over the years. For example, we recently found the receipts from her and my father’s wedding reception in 1976 which revealed that they’d spent more money at the Sicilian bakery than on renting the reception hall. I don’t want to mislead you, though. The favours, or bomboniere as we I-talians would call them, were also bought at the bakery. Still, it made for a good laugh, and insight into how much the cost of having a wedding has changed (-Yikes-).

Last Saturday, my mom found a newspaper clipping and brought it to me, saying, “Dad saved this. He would always read Ann Landers.”

First, I smiled because growing up I’d always read Dear Abby on a daily basis. Then, when I saw the column headline, my heart lit up. It read:

“Every child should be able to be himself.”

Those simple words gave me a lot of joy. I thanked my mom for sharing the column with me, and I’m keeping the clipping safe. It offers Ann Landers’ Golden Rules for parenting, with a lot of pure and thoughtful advice for parents.

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The title was what affected me the most – this pure sentiment and expression of true love is so deeply connected to my heart and what I want to do with my life that it made me cry (happy tears). It’s such a special thought to know that this notion obviously resonated with my father (and still does with my mother).

The Golden Rule that the title reflects is the first one:

“Remember that a child is a gift from God, the richest of all blessings. Do not attempt to mould him in the image of your neighbour. Each child is an individual and should be permitted to be himself. “

The 9th also stood out to me, in light of my father’s parenting style:
“Do not smother your child with superficial manifestations of love. The purest and healthiest love expresses itself in day-in, day out-training, that breeds self-confidence and independence.”

My dad was not a flashy guy. He lived a life of service to others, and while I wish his life could have been different, and that he had taken more time for himself while he was alive, his enduring example of pragmatism, consistency and commitment and have been gifts on my and my family’s path, teaching us a great deal.

Last October, I wrote about my Dad, and in particular, about how I would sometimes fear that I would remember him incorrectly given my limited time with him on this earth. (If you’d like, you can read that piece here). While I know that I’ve been lucky enough to inherit many of his qualities despite our less-than-ideal amount of time together, the newspaper clipping my mom passed along last week was a gift and a reminder of the consciousness with which he approached fatherhood. While there are endless conversations I wish I could have had with my dad, it’s very comforting to know that the values so deeply connected to my heart were ripe within his.

All of this to say, being a packrat pays off sometimes. 🙂


-me 🙂

The Pursuit of Happiness

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So far, supply teaching has consisted of a lot of observation, problem solving, wrestling with the concept of authority, and making sure that kids, in the absence of their usual routine-enforcer, don’t do anything too irresponsible.

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About a month ago, I was in a French classroom with grade 4s. If you ever took a French class in elementary school, you probably remember going through a routine of reciting the date, talking about the weather, and potentially answering the question “Comment ça va?” ie. “How’s it going?”

In my experience, most students will answer with, “Ça va bien” (“It’s going well”) – not only because kids are often excited about sharing one of the few phrases they’ve been taught, but because it’s an engrained response to say that things are going well, even when they’re not, as a function of North-American small talk.

I’ve noticed that some students like answering, “Comme ci, comme ça” (“Like this like that” / “So-so”), likely because it’s kind of fun to pronounce, and truthfully a pretty realistic answer. In response to the the minority who answer “Ça va mal,” (“It’s going badly”), I make sure to ask why. Usually they just say because they’re tired (and I think to myself: “Same.”).

When I asked these particular students, “Comment ça va,” most answered, “Ça va bien.” One, however, answered, “Ça va mal.”

“Pourquoi est-ce que ça va mal aujourd’hui?” (“Why are things going badly today?”), I prodded.

“Well, I don’t know. Just for, reasons…”

This was in front of the whole class, and was a really vulnerable thing for this student to share with (essentially) a(n albeit trustworthy) stranger. Without wanting to assume much of anything about this student’s life, I got the impression that he was no stranger to feeling down, and either didn’t fully know why (I’ve been there), or that he did know why (I’ve been there, too). The whole experience reminded me that while we tend to think of children as carefree and happy – even though we know they have their own troubles and (often heavy) experiences – to assume this to be integral to their nature is reductive, and even though I cognitively know better, habitual, less empathetic thinking sometimes prevails. Also, I’m typically only in a school for a day at a time, so I’m cutting myself some slack.

My response was, “Hmm. Well, let’s see what we can do to get that ça va mal to at least a comme ci comme ça by the end of this class,” with a smile.

We went on with the class, and he seemed to be fine. Even though I was keeping an eye on him, I didn’t want to (or have time in that moment to) fixate on his answer. An integral part of the role of an educator is to try to get kids excited about learning, and excitement naturally lends itself to feelings of happiness, but while I want to keep the energy high and positive in the classroom, I’ve also become aware that the attitudes I convey can seriously affect the students I meet.

I think we take for granted how often the pressure to be (and appear) happy makes us feel like there’s something wrong with us, and interferes with our capacity to accept ourselves and the way we feel. This pressure is pervasive – just think of how often you answer the question “How are you?” genuinely.

So much of the experience of looking for something consists of feeling its absence, and the way we engage with the feelings, experiences, or goals we’re seeking can have a huge effect on how we feel throughout the process of attaining, and at the point of actually attaining, a pursuit.

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Seeking versus Chasing
(In the pursuit of happiness, love, or anything, really)

“Whoever you see engaged in search, befriend… For choosing to become a neighbour of seekers, you become one yourself.”
– Rumi, “The Journey”

In the past few months, in a few areas of my life, I’ve been thinking a lot about the difference between seeking and chasing, and personally, I’ve been trying to maintain more of an attitude of seeking when it comes to approaching my goals.

Seeking is an underlying component of chasing, but feels a lot more confident, and a lot less fearful, in my opinion. When you seek, your eyes are open and looking, but in a way that’s not frantic. When you’re chasing, on the other hand, you’re trying to catch something; and often, to cage something that seems elusive. Chasing also seems to lead to the desire for more, naturally lending itself to fear (and often, distraction).

To me, chasing feels forceful and tiring. The image that’s stood out in my mind is one of trying to catch a frog in a pond. You’re likely to get soaked or covered in mud, tripping and falling to capture something that seems just out of your reach, that keeps hopping away or slipping from your grip, and even when you’ve caught it – which it didn’t ask for in the first place – it likely won’t be, or make you, happy. Chasing is usually fixed on a singular goal; a tunnel vision and attachment to a singular outcome, ie. catching that frog. Seeking, to me, seems like sitting on the side of the pond with your eyes open to everything going on around you, with a broader and more open desire to appreciate what more naturally comes your way, with less force. If you’re calm and still, a frog may hop your way, after all, or a butterfly might fly by, but neither of these are a) guaranteed to stay/ happen in the first place, or b) be easily noticed if you’re affixed to the goal of chasing either one.

Some related musical wisdom from one of my very favourite frogs:

That’s not to say that seeking is devoid of getting muddy at times. I can’t knock the hustle. I think there’s a time and place for tenacity, but I’m reminded of a quotation by Eleanor Roosevelt in considering all of this:

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

Seeking allows the beauty of one’s dreams to come into its own – to present itself at the right time – whereas chasing, to me, is like impatiently questioning the dreams’ readiness at every turn, inspiring frustration when that beauty has yet to fully develop or “arrive.”

In important areas of your life, do you find yourself seeking or chasing? Perhaps a little of both, and perhaps you have different answers for different parts of your life. I know that’s certainly been true for me.


-me 🙂

Update: March has been a month of change, and I’ve generally been exhausted. I went from doing regular supply work to briefly/ potentially having my own class, and now I’m back to supply work. The details aren’t important. It’s been a huge learning curve, and the attitudes I’ve maintained in the meantime have been “easy come, easy go,” and “Wu Wei.” 🙂

Exiting (The Not-So) Comfort(able) Zone

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I’ve decided that tonight’s post will be my last in my personal challenge to write every day, marking 25 days of writing daily.

I’ve had the time to write a post every day because I’ve been unemployed while in the process of applying/ getting hired to teach at the elementary level. There have been mixed feelings around the beginning of my professional life, ranging from excitement to trepidation. A large part of my nervousness around this goal has been the sheer amount of time I’ve spent preparing for it (formally since 2008). In all of this time, I’ve been consistently developing my professional capacities in theoretical and practical ways, and thinking about the kind of educator I want to be, all while overcoming a lot of mental barriers en français. I know in my heart that there’s no other field for me. Education is my place. As well, in the past couple of months, I’ve been organizing the teaching materials I’ve accumulated over the years, and am actually quite reassured by the arsenal I’ll be starting with, coupled with the knowledge that teaching is the kind of thing you have to learn by doing, largely through trial and error.

Despite this logical knowledge, when I got my first call for work from the automated call-out system on this past Thursday, my heart sank (thank goodness there wasn’t a real person on the other end). I was worried that the supply teaching job in question would be for the next day, and something in me just didn’t feel ready. I was on the verge of tears, telling myself it was time to toughen up and stop running. It’s not like I genuinely don’t think I can handle supply work, or teaching at all for that matter. Things are always scarier in your head than in reality (or at least most of the time). However, I was still relieved to find out that the job was not for the next day. Thank you, universe.

Tomorrow is my first day of work as a supply teacher. The universe has indeed been good to me – my first (only half!) day of work will be in the only school where I happen to have any experience (volunteering) in the city. I could not have asked for a cushier initiation to this next phase of life.

As of this week, I’ve now got a(n albeit occasional) job, a student to tutor (a former client whose French course just started up again in February), and a paper to work on (a former professor contacted me a little over a week ago about collaborating on a paper for publication). Up until now, I feel like I’ve been lazing around, waiting for paperwork to come through, and now that it finally has, all of a sudden I have a full schedule again. I don’t know why things didn’t work out in a way that was more balanced, but truthfully, I’m grateful that I’ve had time off, in a supportive environment, even if I’ve been in a funk in the meantime (excessive free time + little money + winter temperatures = a less than vibrant me).

My original intention in writing every day was to inject some new energy and life into this funk; to read and learn, to listen to and experience new things and share them on the blog.

Some things I’ve learned and appreciated about the experience of writing daily:

-I learned I could write a post every day. I hadn’t envisioned this when I started a blog, especially because my posts tend to be quite long. At the same time, this has been a good opportunity to practice concision (in some posts), even if my instinct is to yammer.
-I loved knowing people were reading my posts. It was very reassuring and encouraging, so if you’re reading this now (or have read any of my previous posts), thank you.
-On the other hand, lately I’ve become especially conscious of my desire for validation from others, so to continually publish posts without worrying about getting “likes” or comments was a good exercise.
-I’m still uncovering my intentions for writing, and trying to find a balance between writing for an audience, creating something I want to create, and just doing whatever the f— I want without worrying about being pleasing to others.

As for teaching, I feel like I’m ready to stop running away. Part of what initially scared me about starting my professional life was the idea that once this threshold is crossed, there’s no going back. I’m becoming an adult. Prolonging this inevitable destination was a large part of why I ran away to Paris six months ago. My time in Paris was a wonderful experience, besides for obvious reasons, because it gave me space to work through some personal fears with distance from my usual surroundings.

While I’ve learned a lot about myself in the past six months, somewhere along the way, I feel like I got soft. Without being in situations that challenged me to show my abilities, I lost confidence in those abilities. I think we can all benefit from some time off, but now that it’s been six months for me, I can officially say I’m ready to move on and start being responsible for something other than understanding my emotions and fears. I can handle a lot when I’ve got a lot to handle, and it’s time to prove that to myself again. As much as I’ve been scared to move on to this long-awaited challenge, the biggest lesson I learned over the past couple of months of unemployment is that I was not happy in what I thought to be my comfort zone. I did not thrive in that space. I wasn’t even really comfortable in my “comfort zone,” and this has been a helpful nugget of wisdom that I’m glad to be taking forward with me.

Thanks for coming along on this journey with me, whether by reading this post, or any of the others I’ve written in the past 25 days. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go pick out my outfit for the first day of the rest of my professional life.

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-me 🙂

 

Why Do You…

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I went to a writing workshop today led by Ikenna Onyebula, organized by the fine folks at Hamilton Youth Poetry Slam (HYP). Ikenna Onyebula, who goes by the performance name OpenSecret, was the World Poetry Slam Champion in 2014. You can check out one of his pieces here.

HYP does monthly workshops, open mics and slams. They’re currently preparing for their Louder Than A Bomb: Canadian Youth Poetry Festival happening in May. The work they do is truly fantastic and seeks to empower youth in developing their voices as they share their experiences through poetry and other art forms. I’ve only been to a couple of their events, but I’m really grateful for the work they’re doing. You can check them out here.

The workshop was about embodying your art by writing with intention, and thus conveying your authenticity when sharing your energy with an audience.

To begin, Ikenna asked us a seemingly simple question:

“Why do you write?”

I was the third person to answer to the group, and the person before me had just said that she wrote to express herself, which was basically where my mind was at. My answer was, “To legitimize the ideas in my head.”

For me, writing things down seems to legitimize them. When I feel I’ve learned a lesson or have experienced something noteworthy, I make sure to write it down. Somehow, then, it feels official.

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I felt my answer was a little blasé, or at least lacking a reflection of the notion of connection demonstrated in the answers of many of the other participants. I realized, though, that it’s quite a complex question; at least for me, personally. There are tons of reasons why I write, and while the exercise wasn’t about identifying a singular reason, I felt it more difficult than I’d have anticipated to answer the question.

I wondered how I would answer if the question had been, “Why do you teach?” Or, “Why did you study education?” and I thought about the hypothetical complexity of my answer. I would have so much to say, but this also got me thinking about how it can be difficult to concisely verbalize why we do the things we do (or hope to do).

Ikenna’s advice was to identify why we write, to remember why we write, and to consistently remind ourselves of that intention in order to fuel the desire to continue, especially when writing feels difficult.

There’s an intention behind every action, whether we think about it or not. He gave the example of eating because you’re hungry. Or playing a game because it makes you happy. A seemingly banal intention is still an intention.

My question to you, noble reader, is: why do you (do what you do)?

Whether this is an occupation, an art, a hobby, or anything that you find yourself doing that takes up your time.

Why do you do it?

I’d love to hear some responses in the comments. If not, then try the exercise on your own, looking at something that takes up your time and asking yourself why you spend time doing it. Personally, I found this seemingly simple ice-breaker surprisingly challenging and enlightening.


-me 🙂

P.S. This isn’t about imposing a sense of self-doubt in every action we take. Rather, it’s about genuinely considering things that we tend to accept as parts of our lives, and thinking about how they enhance our experiences and develop us (or don’t).

The Beginning of Love (That Liberates)

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In honour of Valentine’s Day, I thought I’d post a couple of love-related quotations that I particularly appreciate, which I hope you will, too.

The first is about loving people for who they are, and comes from Thomas Merton:

“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”

I found this apropos. I think Thomas Merton would, too.

I found this apropos. I think Thomas Merton would, too.

The second is about love as freedom, and comes from Maya Angelou:

“I am grateful to have been loved and to be loved now and to be able to love, because that liberates. Love liberates. It doesn’t just hold—that’s ego. Love liberates. It doesn’t bind. Love says, ‘I love you. I love you if you’re in China. I love you if you’re across town. I love you if you’re in Harlem. I love you. I would like to be near you. I’d like to have your arms around me. I’d like to hear your voice in my ear. But that’s not possible now, so I love you. Go.'”

– – –

I’ll leave you with an ever-smooth but lesser-known love ballad by Michael Jackson:

Happy Valentine’s Day!


-me 🙂