Sometimes when I check my email on the weekend, especially near a progress reporting time, I kick myself. I love teaching. I HATE grading. Students submit things at different times and in different ways, even when the expectations are outlined, and because I tend to be TOO flexible in that regard, I hear complaints and get the "why did I get a zero?" message. I use zeroes as place holders. I almost always let kids make work up, especially if it tanks their grades. But it doesn't mean I like the process.
My beef? Be in class, do your work, get your job done, and then let me do mine. And if you are going to take YOUR sweet time doing your job? Let me take mine. But it doesn't work like that. It doesn't matter if I were to be completely on top of it. I will never please everyone. Sometime around October, I definitely quit trying. Every year.
What I definitely do know is that being a writer and being a writing teacher are two very different things, and only one of those two things really lights my heart on fire. Stories, however, are the kindling. The reviews? not always so much. Anyway, it's late, and my metaphor is failing. I will say that I will NOT be checking email until Monday morning, and I may not grade another paper until then, either. But I've got some words to put down, so I better get crackin. I'm on my milly track.
2 words: Blackstone’s Hotsprings. The definition of the best overnight trip in New Mexico.
I have not been as happy as I was this weekend in a very long time. The most incredible getaway spot in New Mexico exists just hours from my home, and I think it may have changed my life. Let me just say that the level of relaxation that I reached was unparalleled. And I promise, the hardest drug I took was a second pint of pilsner at the local brewery in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
The bed was definitely something out of a fairy tale--soft cushioning and even fluffier covers. The tub was like a magical portal to warm-water-land, and the private patio where I sat to cool off after my first bath was probably the icing on the cake. It was amazing. It wasn’t cheap, but it was absolutely worth every single penny that I spent on it. I would return. I want to return. I want to sit and soak and write and read and do this weekend over again. I loved it. I’m not ready to be back in the real world.
Blackstone’s has only a few bedrooms, but it also has “public” private pools that several people can enjoy at once. But only if you want them to. Since it was my birthday, I was able to partake in a free soak in one of those outdoor pools. To tell you how absolutely incredible this weekend was is to define a moment in the beauty of life that most people never even come close to seeing. It helped that the weather was just incredible. Soft cottony clouds in a bright blue sky cooled the heat of the afternoon, and early in the morning it rained, making tinny sounds on the patio roof. If I didn’t know better, I might tell you I died and went to a corner of heaven.
Clearly, I recharged, but my body is in stress withdrawals, so I’ve been a little testy today. It doesn’t help that yesterday was still summer and today is full on winter, but I also wish I had just a few more hours down there to feel it all over again. Do yourself a favor. Visit Blackstone’s. You won’t regret a second of it.
I’ve dated a few men in my life who have appeared to be supportive of my writing career—for as long as it took them to get something from me. That support never lasted long. I don’t think a lot of people take me seriously as a writer, even when they read my stuff. They pretend to, for sure, but when the rubber hits the road, the real story is that they don’t see me as anything more than what they’ve created as an image of me.
I am reflecting on this because of some things someone very important to me has said a few times over the last couple of years.
When I finished my first book, Fires at Christmas, he was my man. He was also on the way out the door, as far as that role. It was January 15, 2017, and I had struggled over that book for about ten years. I know now that I learned many lessons from writing it, and a lot of it is junk, and a lot of it can be salvaged, but no matter what, it was my first completion. I was thrilled. And he was blasé. He was completely devoid of any real support or energy. It broke my heart. About a week later, he walked out the door.
I was just rereading some of the work I had been creating around that time, and it is clear to me that I was aware he was leaving, but the leaving still shattered me. At any rate, his apathy was painful. So I set some goals on my own, and some of them I achieved, even though I was depressingly depressed. I was pretty destroyed, in fact. I worked hard to overcome that. I recently saw him and I was talking about my next book, Chattering Swallow. I mentioned the name of one of my characters—Quillon, and his nickname is Q. That man that I had put so much energy into told me my choice for names was “gay.”
Now first, I’d rather he used a different way to denigrate my decision for a name, but that’s beside the point. My choices for names have purpose and meaning. I knew a Quillon once, who was the sweetest, kindest and most thoughtful person I had ever met. And I lost him many years ago. And while I never called him Q, my teammates, who I have a strong affinity for, call me Q. So that’s why I chose that name for an important character in this book. What he probably was reacting to, is that the man in the novel is modeled after him, and I destroy him in my book. The name was denigrated, but that’s because the human model was relegated to pain and misery in my world building.
Another man, in another time of my life, also chose to tell me the name of one of my very important, and very powerful characters was “gay.” Now, I’m not really sure why this is their insult of choice. I know a lot of really great and powerful gay people, and I could care less what their sexuality is. But I suppose if one’s masculinity is threatened, then that might have something to do with it. At any rate, my lesson.
I have decided that the names I choose are just that: names I choose. Nobody else gets to pass judgment. My son’s best friend’s girlfriend is pregnant and they did their gender reveal yesterday. I asked what they are going to name her, and he told me Kalani. And I passed judgement. But I don’t want to. That’s not my role. This little Kalani will have a couple of wonderful people in her life, and Kalani she will be. I’ll be a great auntie and love her anyway.
So name haters can eff off. We choose names because we like them, or because they have meaning. And that should be good enough.
I don't really know what that means.
I met some really interesting people today. I mean, A LOT of interesting people. I was fascinated by each of them. I wanted to sit with them--seriously, every single one of them--and talk with them more. I was hugged and loved, and admired, and I was able to return that favor. It was powerful. I don't know what happened today, but I think it has to do with my desire to write. Seriously. Strange as that may sound, my desire to write has opened my mind to the possibilities that exist outside of what I'm doing now. It makes me want know people and see people, and then write those people. It's pretty cool.
I was told by one couple that my "chakra is so open right now." I won't lie, I had to look that shit up. Evidently you have 7 of them, so I don't know which one is open, but something has raised a floodgate. I have words galore, and smiles to share, and I'm on fire, folks. It's wonderful. I feel like how a hippie must. But, that could also be that I've made it clear to myself that certain goals can be attained, and I'm not going down until they are. Watch out, I'm ready to rock.
Speak it, right? I am shouting it. I'm going to write until my fingers bleed, if that's what it takes. (And I'm also going to speak it, since I'm also working on a vlogging series...hold tight...it will be here soon.)
Wish me luck everyone! And look for my next book, StinkBug, on Kindle. I'll have that one ready in about a month. In the meantime, Notes to People awaits you, also on Kindle.
Be good to yourself, and if you can't be good to yourself, go take a nap.
About why I write.
I was inspired by Mike Faricy's (https://www.amazon.com/Mike-Faricy/e/B004DBU1QA) post on why he writes, so I need to tell my own story. The problem is, I spend so much time telling short stories, and telling fiction, that I'm not really sure what my story is. So I may have to wing it...fictionalize it, if you will. Or maybe it will be the truth.
I write because I think.
That's pretty much it. I write because I am my own best and worst critic. I write because I envision life in all its forms, and some of those forms suit me, but many of them don't. I want to experience all of them, so writing gives me the moment to try them out.
I write because I am reflective.
That's also pretty much it. I write because I have so many things to reflect upon. I have so many people and moments that inspire me and that make me remember that there are multiple realities to every single moment. Writing helps me to make sense of those. It helps me to distill those thoughts, those moments, those fears and failures and laughs and wins.
I write because it is natural.
Let's be real. I screw up a lot. But words have boundaries. Change a letter and the whole meaning becomes something else. Change a word, and suddenly you've changed a context. I freakin' love it. See, I just reduced the formality by choosing a word, and then, for added consistency, dropped a letter. Amazing.
Right now, I write because there are things that need to be done that no other person will ever do for me. And writing helps me to remember that.
And mostly, I write because it is hard. I've never really done anything the easy way. So this makes complete sense.
Dustin called me out. I had made the promise through this blog that I would finish my murder mystery by August 1st. And I worked on it, I really did. I made some really hard choices this summer about how to spend my time, and sometimes, I made some really EASY choices about how to spend my time, and it wasn't always used for writing. And I didn't finish the book.
This summer was pretty incredible, though. Aidan and I traveled a lot, and I gained some amazing perspective on life and experience and words spoken. I met some awesome people, and I heard a lot of promises that I believed, but which ended up being empty. So now, I have another new perspective on the words we speak and the promises we make. I promised to finish my book, and I failed. I don't think I failed any of you. I made the promise because you keep me accountable, and so really, I failed myself by not finishing it. I could make excuses, I mean, it is reallllly hard work to write a murder mystery, especially when you've never murdered anyone (but I can't say I haven't thought about how it could work out...), but that's not the point. The thing is, I underestimated my capacity for hard brain work when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, and my dogs are snuffling about underfoot. I was often distracted.
What this summer taught me is that I want to promise to keep my promises. And with that, I promise that the promises I make will only be promises I intend to keep. And as for others? I will consider my locus of control. If someone makes me a promise that they don't keep, or don't intend to keep, I will have to consider the source, consider the context, and consider how much it matters that this promise be held. And in this life, sometimes, promises mean nothing.
But don't let that distract you (or me) from the fact that this book is rocking. And it is an incredible experience that is motivating me from my core and raging through my being. It's going to happen, but it isn't going to happen just because I put a day on it. It's going to happen because I have promised this story that I will tell it. And I owe it to the story to do it the justice it deserves.
I’ve spent a lifetime as a flexible person. Really, my hips, thighs, ankles, knees, shoulders, elbows, wrists: all of them were well oiled joints that responded to the tortures I put them through on the volleyball court, the softball field or the rugby pitch. But now, they creak. They are rusted through and through. I have chondromalacia in the one “good” knee that hasn’t needed surgery, and tendonitis in my throwing elbow. Running the bases is torture on my kneecap, and throwing the ball? Forget it. Try doing a simple ab workout…nothing works like it used to. There is nothing like getting old, and trust me, it’s not for sissies. Oscar Wilde was so right about youth being wasted on the young. I beat myself up, and now I’m paying in spades.
Aidan and I did some yardwork the other day, including putting in a new fence, and I was practically on the verge of tears because I hurt so much. Honestly, the worst part was admitting that I couldn’t do the things I once had been able to do. I felt old and used up, and honestly…worthless. But that is a choice. I don’t have to feel that way. I can choose how to reword that. I can put a new face on it. I can start getting to the part my dad was a pro at: I can be a supervisor now. I have nothing to prove except to myself, and the expectations that I talked about the other day don’t have to be lower, but they have to be different. My body doesn’t respond the way I tell it to as often as I’d like it to anymore. That’s okay. I’m 43, I’m not dead. I just have to keep working at living.
I met an old man at Wal-Mart in the birdseed section. I noticed he was taking a really long time to get back into his motorized cart, so I went to help him, but he refused it, and then he told me all about being young—not old. He used his body hard, and he doesn’t regret a single bit of it. Jumping out of airplanes, fighting forest fires, taking risks…all were the things that made him the bright eyed, albeit slow old man on oxygen today. He wants to die after eating a bison steak on a mountaintop, or after he’s had a bit of fun in a whorehouse in Mexico at 103. I can pass on that, but I plan to be 103 when I go too.
And there is hope for flexibility. It’s called drugs. Just kidding. It actually means working through the pain, which is pretty metaphorical for most of things in life. We make choices in our lives that affect everything we do next. It’s often difficult to sift through the material we’re presented to decide if we’ve made a good choice, or if the next one will be just as good. So even though a standing ab workout sucks, and it makes me realize how much I actually hurt (or weigh), it is going to benefit me as I get better at it. Just like anything else, it takes practice, and it means taking risks, and it means getting up and just doing it. Quit making excuses and put your mind over your matter.
I have been reading Barbara Stanny’s book, Secrets of Six-Figure Women: Surprising Strategies to Up Your Earnings and Change Your Life, and her message so far is that successful high earners know their own value and have a solid work/life balance. Underearners, in her estimate, tend to complicate their lives by doing multiple jobs thinking that they’re doing the best thing for themselves, but ultimately they are not making the income that meets their potential.
As a veteran Level 3 teacher in New Mexico, I am in the upper bracket of my earning potential. By working at the hotel I have been able to gain quite a lot of perspective on that, but also on my desire to make more money, along with my frustration at stagnating in my professional salary. Stanny addresses that at one point in her text by talking about how people who are underearning are essentially grinding down their hopes (and energy and time) and therefore, their ability to make more. Success is relative, to be sure, but contentedness comes from our own attitudes. The biggest question to ask is, "where is my time best spent?"
The growth process I've undertaken has also given me the opportunity to better understand my relationship with money. I sometimes take on debt as a challenge. That’s not healthy. I'm good at paying debt down, and at being smart, for the most part about what I purchase, but I definitely like to spend money on experiences and adventures. Until I make more money, or until my son is responsible for his own life, health, vision, dental and auto insurance, I probably should scale my experiences back a bit. (Kids aren't cheap, folks.)
I am currently looking at other professional jobs, but that doesn’t mean that I’m ready to leave the one I am in right now. It does mean that if I am offered a job that would pay me $20,000 more, I really need to consider taking it. I’m seven years away from retirement, and most people look at me like I’m a fool when I suggest that I'd like to do something new. Teaching is getting harder, but it’s also my own inflexibility that tends to grow as I as I get older. My frustration comes more readily. That’s not a fair translation for the students who need more from me.
Being successful as a teacher also means knowing when to stay and when to go. I don't know yet if I've hit that point of awareness. My advice to myself? "When in doubt, do nothing." But I don't want to just sit around and wait for something to happen, either. I want to know it before it hits me in the face. So, for now, I will read this book, evaluate my thoughts, grow as a person, and one day soon, I will know what needs to happen next.
I'll keep you posted, homies. Love ya.
What concerns me most is that there are people out there who don't know good when it is in front of them...
I want to address the idea of expectations, reality, and perception. First, we all have expectations. That's just the crux of it. Whether they are high or low, we each hold them about each and every thing we do. We expect our son to take out the trash, and he either does it or he doesn't. Will he do it immediately? Probably not, and unless I do it first, he will eventually get around to it. That is the reality. I'll ask him, and he'll probably wait to see if I'll do it first, and then if I do, great, he's free, if I don't, then eventually he will take the trash out. The perception is where it all gets sketchy. Did I ask him to do it right away? Did he perceive that it was imperative to do it right away? Was he already involved in something else, that to him, was more important at the time?
What I'm trying to get at, is that each of us goes through this phase process of expectations and results, and along the way, we go through our own realities and our own perceptions of those realities. And if we aren't careful, this process can result in some really lousy reactions--and we are the only ones responsible for how we react to each interaction.
Last night, I served a family of 10, and while I thought I gave them great service, their expectation was completely different, and therefore, their perception was completely different. They felt that they deserved red carpet treatment, and that I might fawn over them because in their mind, they were spending a lot of money. Let me tell you, people, I've learned that "a lot of money" is all relative. But I digress.
My expectation was to serve them, make sure they were hydrated, fed and could spend the time with their family in peace and comfort, hopefully with laughter and joy. Their expectation? I'm not sure. I just didn't meet them. I didn't do a song a dance, just like I don't really want to do a song and dance in a classroom. So you can't please everybody. It turned into a completely horrible experience for me, and they walked away with all sorts of gratuities that they didn't deserve.
I could wax on about all of this, but in the end, what really matters is that sometimes, some people don't see the good in the things in front of them, and in that behavior, they make others feel things they don't necessarily need to feel: sadness, angst, misery, whatever. It's real in all areas of life. Manage expectations. I am certainly not saying to lower expectations. That's never a part of my vocabulary. I am saying, however, that there are good things in everything, and if we just learn to see them for what they are worth, then we can be happier, better people.
Have a great day, homies. I love ya.
A week ago I took a group of students on a school trip to Jekyll Island, Georgia. That's USA, folks. You'd be surprised how many people ask if I took them to the country of Georgia. Anyway...while the trip was educational in nature, it was also very important for me. I was able to reset a lot of the things in my mind that were askew, and have been askew for quite some time. I was able to gain some clarity. There may be something to being at the beach, up against the power of the ocean and the shifting tide, the uneasy sands, or the rocky wall of the breakers, but there may also be something to being forced to just stop, don't work. Be thoughtful, be reflective. It was wonderful.
I was able to reset. I was able to reconsider some goals, created as much as a year ago, and as soon as six months ago, or maybe even just five months ago. There is a big difference between five months and six months, though it seems small.
This blog for instance. There are people who read it! There are people who look for it, and I am disappointing them when I don't have something for them to read. Even more mind blowing to me, is that there are some people who are even inspired by some of the things that I say in my blog. I wouldn't necessarily know that except for the simple reason that I teach, and most of the people who find inspiration in my words are students. That's pretty cool, actually. And isn't that mostly what I'm seeking anyway? To inspire students? It's pretty amazing.
I have taken some time to consider my career, my professional marketability, and the choices I've made in the last few years that are either professional in nature, or that interfere with my professional growth. I'm okay. I've had a great career, and it will continue for as long as I decide it has value in my life. Much like a man, it must make my life better, or else, why am I doing it? Caught between the high waves of the incoming tide and the rocks of the breakers that protect the sands, I realized that there it is: tumult and change, but underneath, there is a quiet place that I can return to.
I've given some of these decisions up to God. I'm doing the legwork here, but I trust that He has His eye on my prize. He knows my heart. And, we all know that I have much to accomplish in this life. I know I have much to say, to think, to do, and I'm getting pretty excited about it. See you all again soon.
Wanted: a good set of sentences to grab you from the depths of the internet. I keep trying to catch your eye.