Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The rest of how I am doing

I have a carry-on open in the upstairs hall, and have for about a week, which is "dump-packed"-- meaning, I've dumped the stuff I think I want in it, but haven't fit it into the suitcase yet. I have, finally, started rolling things and putting them in gallon-sized plastic bags and sitting on them as I zip them up. I've started thinking about whether I really want to travel with this or that thing, and trading them out accordingly. What if it gets stolen by the TSA? Do I want to wear red at all, the week that I actually am using the stuff in this suitcase?

My father has been in hospice since October. I think October. Things get a little hazy sometimes. It could have been earlier. Anyway, in October they gave him three weeks to three months. On January 11th, they thought it would be about two weeks. Last Monday they thought it would be about two weeks. Today, they thought it would be any time in the next week. When I told my sister that they need a different bell curve for Dad, she laughed and agreed with me. And as she said last October, it will be a shock no matter when he dies, because he has dodged death so many times.

Other than that great dreadful hanging over me at all times, I'm doing so gloriously well that I can honestly say I'm the best I've been in my life. The decision to not even look for a different job, to put all my extra energy into writing, has been SO freeing, and-- sorry to reuse the word, but it just makes me feel glorious. I feel happier than I ever remember being, about that in particular but also about life in general. This, of course, is interspersed with the sharp pain of finally losing my beloved father. If that sounds like a weird way to live to you, then your instincts are spot-on. On average I'm doing fine, but in this case, the average truly doesn't tell the whole picture. I'm doing wonderful and terrible.

I do cry a lot, but it's good crying, if that makes any sense. It feels clean to me. I figured out over a decade ago that I wanted to treasure every moment I had left with my dad, and I've done that. I have about seven years' worth of phone conversations that I've typed out while talking to him, and that gives me an enormous sense of satisfaction. It isn't that I have absolutely no regrets, and I hope I don't get all full of myself over how well I think I've done, but at the same time, I think that it's OK to feel happy that I have done a small thing for a long time that was not always easy.

Also tempering my sadness is my recognition of the fact that my knowing my dad, him knowing me, him having been around for my childhood, the fact that he likes me and tells me how proud he is of me-- all these things are blessings that put me in a class of blessedness far beyond numerous children and even some adults in the building I work in. I was listening to Matthew 5 the other day, and when I heard, "blessed are they that mourn," I thought to myself: yes, I'm already blessed. Mourning means I have loved and been loved. Not to be able to mourn would be awful.

And I'm writing, and I'm getting more prolific, and feeling more confident in my own competence. I have a couple of wonderful writing partners, who are splendid friends as well.

And speaking of friends, I have more friends-- more people to call and talk to and listen to and feel human with-- than I ever have in my entire life. That makes a huge difference when you have a burden you need help with. And in this, too, I know I am lucky. I can reach out all I want, but having people who are willing to reach back and be true friends really is completely beyond my control, and I know how blessed I am to have all these people who are willing and able to do so.

Anyway. That's how I am. Don't feel too sorry for me. I've had the house to myself for the last month, and it has been absolute heaven. (Mom has been out in Utah, caring for Dad.) And as I was praying about how I could manage my emotions when I am out in Utah for the funeral trip, the answer was knitting. I foresee knitted plushies in my future, unless the yarn for my friend's baby dress arrives in the mail before the time comes for me to fly out.

The pictures I keep promising keep not happening (obvs.), but here is one I did that I liked of the ceiling and upper wall in the chapel where my ward meets on Sundays. The lighting could be better, and honestly the drawing itself could be better, but I still like it. The sunburst, stars, beehives, wheat stalks, whorl between the wheat stalks, and fleur-de-lis (of which there are many more irl than the one sad little one I drew) are all covered in gold leaf. I will not get to stay in this ward forever, so I'm trying to live it up. ;)

Thursday, January 31, 2019

And other magical items

Experiencing the wonder that is magical tennis shoes reminds me of a friend who, years ago, acquired some new, beautiful earrings. If I recall correctly, they were diamond studs, but that doesn't really matter that much. The point is, she kept her children in line for an entire day by threatening to take the earrings out if they didn't behave-- so they behaved.

The last time I was in Utah, in October, I went to church with the friend I was staying with (which was heaven-- I connect well with her children and enjoy them very much). In the pew in front of us was a small boy, maybe two or three years old, who was being entertained by a woman who looked maybe a generation older than me. She had a necklace which consisted of a gold chain and a lovely round pendant, and she let the boy examine it to his heart's content, which took most of the meeting.

It reminded me of part of Thomas Moore's Utopia, which I read during my freshman year of college (in translation, to my disappointment-- I hadn't realized that Moore, despite being an Englishman, had written in Latin). In the ideal society described in his book, gold and silver and precious gems are not valued as they were in Moore's time-- basically as money. It wasn't that they were completely valueless-- the adults thought they made fairly decent playthings for small children. You know: shiny, sturdy, just a thing you have laying around, so sure, let the kids play with them.

And of course we haven't quite reached this ideal-- more because electronic forms of money have replaced precious metals than because we are reaching ideal levels of equality-- but seeing this sister just reminded me of that part of Moore's story, and I went up to her afterward to tell her how lovely it was to watch her. She was pleased to hear that, which made me pleased that I had shared.

It is the sort of thing that makes me wonder if I should get more shiny things. I'm still thinking about it.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Fashionable/Magical Tennis Shoes

Man, I am behind in the visuals department. My deepest apologies. My only excuse is that finished is better than perfect, at least in the getting-blog-posts-up department.

So. Where to start. Maybe my childhood? I grew up in an area of the country which is not known for being fashion-forward, and pushing my own family even further back than this regional trend was the fact that we were-- well, I've learned that "poor" can be a loaded while simultaneously vague term, so I will say that we almost always wore hand-me-down clothes.

Occasionally Grandma Tommy would visit, and sew us a few things, and there was that one time when Mom came into some money and took me "school shopping," a concept with which I had been previously unfamiliar. In my clothing-acquisition experience up to that point, you just went through the bags of hand-me-downs as they came in, not paying attention to any particular seasonal schedule, but taking what would fit for yourself and then passing on what didn't. Also, that same year as "school shopping," there was a shop down the street that had Sunday dresses on sale, and Mom got us each one

OK. This is not a pity party. The truth is, it was rather freeing to have a sense that fashion didn't have to matter to us. Things that mattered in my family were books, and school, and music (as in, piano lessons and practice, and singing, and cello lessons and practice for me). If I had to pick, I would definitely go for the family values I grew up with rather than something more usual.

But over time, I realized that my life would be easier if I learned to fit in a little better visually, and so I began to figure out reasons why fashion might be worth paying attention to. The best one I ever came up with was that when you adopt a fashion, you are saying to the people who like that fashion that you are like them.

As time progressed, while I never became (and never aspire to be) a fashion plate, I slowly upped my fashion game to the point that I now blend in, mostly successfully, with my peers who were raised with a more usual sense of what fashion means. The vast majority of my clothes are still pre-loved, though I usually buy them myself at a thrift store (rather than waiting for like-sized friends to clean out their closets), and this fact still doesn't really bother me.

Shoes, on the other hand, are an entirely different matter. Mom read when we were young that you should never put children in used shoes, because they could damage their feet, so our shoes were always bought new, for us. As an adult, I buy not just new shoes but rather nice ones, because I have a back problem which requires a very thick sole between myself and the ground. Also, a year ago fall, I found out that I have bunions, and that the expensive-type shoes I was used to getting for the sake of my back were the sort the doctor recommended for my feet. I guess it's a good thing I like the look :).

There was only one problem with this, however. The favored shoes made a loud klonking noise on the floor, and we have a downstairs neighbor who is rather noise-sensitive. It got to the point that a few months ago, I realized that tight budget notwithstanding, I had to get some new shoes-- ones that would make less noise. Just before Thanksgiving, I made it to the discount shoe store.

"Do you have any tennis shoes with really thick soles?" I asked. I figured that tennis shoes would stay on my feet better, and therefore make less noise than my usual clogs.

"Oh, yes, we have some that are very popular."

Internally, I groaned. I did not want to look like a seventh-grader, or like I was trying to look like a seventh-grader. I LIKE being a grown-up, and I like looking like a grown-up, and blending in with the kids just seemed like a terrible idea to me.

However, after about forty minutes of denial and another fifteen of trying in vain to find anything else that would work, I was defeated: Fashionable Tennis Shoes were the best-fitting, and suited my back-and-bunion needs better than anything else in the store. The part that did not hurt my feelings was that they were about half the usual price of Klonky-But-Grownup shoes.

So I bought them, and I brought them home, but I wouldn't wear them to work yet. What if they needed to be broken in? Or at least, that's what I told myself. But less than a week later, we had a snow day, which gave me a chance to try them out on a two-hour walk. To my mild distress, they caused no problems whatsoever.

So I wore them to school.

You know how if you have a stain on your shirt, or your fly is unzipped, it can be hard for others not to look at you? That's how my feet were for the first, oh, three weeks of the Magical Tennis Shoes. And the comments went something like this:

"Ms. C, I like your shoes."

"Thank you."

"Ms. C, I like your shoes."

"Thank you."

"No, for REAL! I'm not kidding!"

"I know! Thank you!"

Because, how could I not know? I had three different children ask me where I had bought them, one of them twice, within those same first three weeks, besides all of the significant looks and the outright compliments.

And it is these same children, who are extremely trend-aware, who are (some of them) most likely to give me guff if I ask them to do something like: please sit down, or please stop touching another student, or please walk to class because the bell rang four minutes ago and you are the last one in the hall. And when I'm wearing these shoes? They are MUCH more likely to listen. Thus they are magical not just because they make young people listen, but because it is the very young people whom I most need to listen, who listen.

Last summer, when I was visiting family in the Intermountain West, I happened to pack a plaid shirt in my things, and on one particular day when I was visiting a cousin who literally lives in the country, I happened to wear that shirt. I just thought that family might appreciate a nod to their Western sensibility. And by the end of my visit to that particular household, my cousin's wife gave me a goodbye hug-- a real hug, and I was super happy about it, because to me it meant that I had been accepted, and that they knew I accepted them.

I don't know what the shirt meant to my cousin-- not really-- and I am completely sure that I don't know the full cultural implications of my magical tennis shoes. But if these items of clothing help those around me to feel loved and accepted, they will have a place in my wardrobe for a long, long time.

(Yes, pictures soon. I tried to put up a scan of my lunch-tray drawing, but it turned out that it was in the wrong format. Thank you for your patience!)

Friday, January 11, 2019

And another thing: singing

Most of the techniques I've discovered so far for getting kids to do what they are supposed to be doing anyway have to do with seeming cool to them. I'm very wary of this, because even as a seventh-grader, it's a terrible idea to rely on other seventh-graders for your sense of social acceptance, let alone when you're a grownup. Nevertheless, if it works, I'm gonna do it, whether it's drawing or wearing magical tennis shoes (more on this later) or whatev.

My latest, however, is not about being cool at all; it's about being obnoxious. As I told a friend the other day, if you threaten a punishment that's too harsh, then the child has to keep doing the behavior you're trying to get them to stop, because they have to find out whether you would really do it. It becomes about what you are doing, instead of what they are doing. The best punishments are just annoying, like having to line up earlier than your friends because you didn't line up in time yesterday.

OR having an adult sing to you, opera-style, about the thing you are supposed to be doing. "Please take your haaaaands away from him! If I have to walk next to you to get you to stop, that's what I will do!" Man, you have never seen a hallway clear out so fast.

I know I shouldn't over-use it, any more than I should rely on seventh-grader-acceptance, but I also have to say that it's been a while since I have had this much fun at work. *impish grin*

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Christmas Tree Love

No drawings this time, but at least I have pictures!

Behold, my beautiful Christmas tree! I fell in love with it on Christmas morning and took a gajillion pictures; these are the three which I liked best.

I've always rather identified with whales (they're so big! and I was a pretty big kid), while still being in awe of them. But I fell in love with the ship ornament first.

You can barely see either of them, in this photo.

I did think the pop of red was nice for this tree, and it was an added bonus that this particular ornament was, you know, a little more directly Christmas-y.

Hopefully you can see the whale a bit in this one, too.

I think I've loved this Christmas tree as much or more than any I've had in my life.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Drawing abilities, part II

This time it was a table of girls. I didn't draw a sports car; I didn't draw anything from a book, since I had sort of forgotten until after I walked into the lunch room that I had been threatening for a while, and that it was time to put my money where my mouth was. So I slipped into the kitchen, grabbed a blank piece of paper and a pencil, and then went and sat down with the girls.

I considered drawing one of the girls themselves, but since under even the best of circumstances, it can be difficult to get kids to hold still for you to draw them, I decided to draw one girl's lunch. I had hoped merely to be busy enough to pass unnoticed, but that wasn't what happened. They were completely fascinated. "Don't eat that!" one of them said to her friend. "She's drawing it!" I told her that she should eat it-- I was a little horrified at the thought that someone would get less lunch because of my presence-- and I just drew as fast as I could.

And at the end of lunch, I asked them to please remember to clean up after themselves. One girl tried to argue that it was so small, why did it matter if they left (for instance) just one plastic baggie behind. I raised my eyebrows and looked her in the eye and restated my point, and she quickly agreed.

NOBODY EVER TOLD ME THIS: hey, you are pretty good at drawing, and that means that some day you are going to work in a middle school and you will need kids to clean up after themselves at lunch, and this drawing ability is going to be your secret weapon for connecting with them, getting them to view you as an actual human being, and being willing to do the decent thing and clean up after themselves.

Life is so weird sometimes. (Yes, yes, I will try to get that lunch tray drawing posted soon...)

Monday, June 18, 2018

How my drawing abilities indirectly got me one of my favorite compliments ever

Hmm. This is the second brag post in a row-- but I did promise to tell you this story in the last post, so I'll do this one and then maybe next time I will talk about some of the things I've been messing up lately. (But no promises!)

Anyway. About halfway through the school year, I was having some difficulty getting the some of the seventh-graders I supervise at lunch to clean up after themselves. One day, I was feeling extra frustrated, and followed a couple of kids from the cafeteria to the library to see if they had been the ones to leave a particularly bad mess. They denied it, but said someone else had done it. I duly went and asked the someone else, but of course he denied as well. I went home pretty steamed about the whole thing, and decided that the best thing would be to sit with them at the table to make sure that I knew who was leaving what.

But as I thought about it that evening, I realized that my presence might not just be a little bit unwelcome; it might be very unwelcome, and I could get kids so upset about me being there that it would distract from my real purpose of figuring out who was causing the messes. I needed a strategy.

Luckily, I had been recently working on learning how to draw a Corvette. I had incorrectly assumed that I would be able to easily get the length of time it took me to draw it down to, oh, say, ten minutes so that I could teach it to my young library patrons during a special lunch hour when (with knowledge and consent from my lunch captain) I would not be in the lunch room but the library. All this was to no avail. My drawing time remains stubbornly at about the half hour mark, and the student (who really is good at drawing) who had volunteered to be my helper took even longer.

So, I had given up on the drawing project in terms of library programming, but as I was thinking about how to not make myself stinky, as it were, to a table full of boys, it occurred to me that if I were to draw a sports car, they might be interested enough not to mind me.

And that was exactly how it worked. The first day, they just watched. When a couple of them got up without taking their trays, I (without yelling, because they were right there) asked them to please come back for them, and they did so without complaint. The second day, I just reminded everyone as they stood up. The third day, they needed no reminder at all.

But this was the other interesting thing. One of the boys--I think on the first day-- said, "That isn't so hard. I can do that." And I genuinely thought that he might. Some kids spend HUGE amounts of time on drawing every day, and I thought if he was one of them, it might be cool for him to get to beat an adult at a skill both he and his peers valued.

The kid who had been helping me prepare for the drawing lesson that never happened remained silent. He knew from personal experience how hard it was to draw a good looking car.

And this is what happened: within about twenty seconds, it was very, very obvious that I had won. And normally I find impromptu contests annoying, especially when the contest is uneven-- yes, even when I'm the one who has the advantage, as in this case. But in this case, victory was SWEET, because every single one of those boys cleaned his tray up every day after that, and the boy who had challenged me happened to also be one who used to try to cut in line every day, and I would always have to harangue him to go back, and after that he just stopped, for most of the rest of the school year. And, basically, anything I asked him to do (which isn't much-- I'm really not that much of a dragon) he would just DO.

This is the thing. I know that I'm above-average at drawing, and yes, it's a real skill, and yes, it's great, but most of the time I feel like being good at drawing, in terms of my-life-usefulness, is a bit like having extra-handsome elbows: great as far as it goes, but not that useful. Except, this time it was! Like I said, SWEET!

And the epilogue happened a couple of weeks ago. My lunch captain, who is one of the school counselors and also one of my friends, came up to me and told me that our school custodian had told her that she thought our lunch team (meaning, the adults who supervise the seventh-graders during lunch) did a very good job. And my friend/captain said that she thought that was mostly me, and I think that this is at least a little bit true, and I was absolutely chuffed that my little old handsome-elbow-drwaing skills got me to the point of earning compliments from the custodial staff. I'll take it any day. :)

(N.B. I have grand planz to update this post soon with at least a picture of one of my drawings, but I don't have them with me at the moment, so I thank you in advance for your patience with me.)