Sunday, December 8, 2013

When the symphony rocks

It's been many years since I've attended a Colorado Symphony concert. Whether it was because our symphony friends moved away or Marin Alsop moved on, I can't say. Despite the years away, everything felt familiar, at least when I initially entered Boettcher Concert Hall last night. Walking the hallway that led to the seats behind the stage brought back memories of choosing seats to watch Alsop's bravado conducting, her energetic wide sweep of arms, her bobbed head moving parallel to the music's intensity. The concert hall sat hushed during musical movements, abashed when a clap would break the reverence before the piece had actually ended.

I grew up on Leonard Bernstein's Young People's Concerts. A dressed up classical music neophyte, I sat rapt as Bernstein commanded the podium, delighted to watch when he would jump a bit, swept into the music by his passion. Symphony concerts were proper affairs where you dressed in fine clothes (an unpleasant dress thing would be forced upon my young self, along with white gloves) and sat quietly, not making a fuss. And sometimes, I did make a fuss (a bit bored by a music I felt was the province of adults, the old ones), ending up for a brief period sitting on a bench outside the concert hall, watching the television version of inside.

Last night, all notions of the familiar symphony were shattered when Ozomatli took the stage with the Colorado Symphony. After I settled into a seat a bit high up overlooking the stage, the symphony members slowly took their seats, tuning up, awaiting the first violin. After he warmed up the orchestra, the evening's conductor Scott O'Neil took the stage. This felt like an evening at the symphony. But when he told the audience that he did not expect quiet and more importantly, expected people out in the aisles, dancing crazy at the symphony, I didn't know what to think. The minute Ozomatli plugged in and rhythmically pulsed the house, the place began to resemble more of a rock club. An odd dissonance as I sat watching the crowd below, dancing where silence usually sat. An odd dissonance as I listened to the couple next to me who knew all the lyrics, proud singers in a place where voice typically only echoed from the stage.

My feet started to tap, my body sway in my seat. I couldn't help it. I could not be the silent proper symphony attendee. After intermission, I moved down to the orchestra level, wanting to feel a bit more of the action. For most of the second half, I did a standing type of dance to the music at my seat, watching crowds in front swaying, waving arms, bobbing heads as they jumped up and down. There was chaos in the house, but one with a beat. At one point, O'Neil pulled different women from in front up on stage with him to dance, participating in the spirit of the evening.

Most of the instrumentalists sat in contrast, their black outfits a solemn accompaniment to their stillness. They were the evening's backup to the stars, a mere notice in the audience's attention. At the start of the evening, O'Neil asked the audience to applaud if they were here to see Ozomatli. He noted that the evening promised that loudness and energy.

And he was right. Last night, the symphony rocked. You could smell pot, watch someone's arm shoot up into the air pulsing the beat with gestures used to scratch a hip-hop beat, and fear that the person in front of you might spill their beer backwards toward you due to too much drink and exaggerated movements. Instead of the flickers of lighters showing their satisfaction, arms waved smart phones of light. And while I'm a purist at heart, wanting the symphony to remain a sacred space, I am now a believer in that space where the new meets the classic. I refuse to succumb to the old ones.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Reset

I didn't know how much I needed to hit reset until I went here. Until I stared out into colors, breathing in pauses, I didn't begin to understand how far I'd traveled away from moments of nothingness, that space and time that brings me closer to me, and in that, closer to the world.

Outside Marion, North Carolina, nestled close to Lake James, I hit reset. When I sat the first evening in unfamiliar Asheville, eating some of the best vegetarian fare I've had in quite some time at the Laughing Seed Cafe, I could distance myself, even if for just moments, from the frenetic busyness of my semester.

Unlike other semesters (although I do have a meltdown somewhere near 2/3 completion due to that overwhelming sense of piling piles), this one has been particularly overloaded. And yes, I am the one who gave me such a mess. While there has been plenty of enjoyment in my classes, that is often shrouded by my focus on how much friggin work I do.

I hit reset sitting in Woody's Original Mountain Music on a Friday night, expecting a fantastic bluegrass jam, not an off-key mediocre music community night. Walking into the brightly lit room, I knew my people were not present in this mix of VFW Hall Senior Center Baptist Church audience. But it didn't matter since I could lose myself in operation observation, feeling a bit out of body as I watched people constantly greet each other, waving at their familiar, clapping loudly for this Friday night entertainment.

In the windy cold breezes of Lake James, hanging out on the pontoon, I smiled at fall, at turtles hanging atop a tree trunk, at a blue heron regally flapping its wings above the water. I stopped to listen, quiet away from my mind's chatter. Reset.

I left some of my constant worry about everything I need to get done while driving the roads of the Blue Ridge Parkway between Little Switzerland and Asheville. I remembered gratitude for what is and what is to come.







Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Oh Patience Little Grasshopper

This past week, I am reminded of just how darn difficult revision can be.

This past week, I've been sitting with an essay that I need to submit to an essay writing workshop I'm taking at The Lighthouse Writers. While I spent some time over the last six months revising and doing a bit of writing, I had not really sat with the hard work; I could always quit when it got too difficult and put the work aside.

When I started doing the final hard sitting, the digging into this revision, I promised myself that I wouldn't get up, no matter how difficult it got; I wouldn't get up until I'd done some work on the piece. And so I stared at the beginning of the essay, an opening that I knew wasn't working. I stared. Nothing. Nothing. Feeling the pressure of a looming workshop deadline, feeling the pressure of a group of writers that I never took a class with (how will I measure up), and feeling the goddamned pressure of doubting my writerly self, I decided to simply skip the beginning and work on a sentence level, measuring words and their meaning. Hard. Slow. I had forgotten that getting a few sentences right might take more than an hour.

After four hours of sitting and revising, I quit for the evening, knowing that tomorrow would bring more time to dig in and do the work. When I was on the edge of sleep for the evening, the new beginning came to me, at least a sentence of it. Rather than ignore, as I much prefer to do when sleep is luring me, I got up and scribbled a quick note. The next afternoon, when I sat again in front of the computer, I smiled at my scribbles, glad to have a way into a new start to the essay. Easier. Not so slow. And then, I got stuck again, staring at a sentence, seeing its weakness, unable to move beyond.

This is how it's gone for the last week. Sometimes, it's a fun romp through my words, able to swiftly cut parts and let go of that which is just not working. Other times, I grow impatient, wanting the essay to be done and perfect, tired of sitting in the slow work of revision. Patience. I remember.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Conversation with an old friend

"You don't look so bad after all."

She smiles back at me. She knows. It's me that forgets and needs to be reminded.

"Where you been," she asks.

"Working. Wandering. Traveling. You know, it's my summer themed Wandering Jew," I answer. I always have answers. I always have words. I just don't always want to be still with them.

"So, are we going to start digging and get to work?"

I breathe. I open the folder. I start reading the feedback on my essays, the words of da coach, fellow workshoppers, and myself.

"I can do that." I'm not sure whether I say it with my inside or outside voice, but I know that it's time to get back to work, to be more steady in my practice of craft, to intend, even if I don't always meet those intentions.

I look back at my writing goals I set at the beginning of the year and feel accomplished that half of them are completed. But I have sat too long. And most importantly, I miss the work. I miss the practice.

"Now get to work," she says.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

CSA-less

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It's my first summer in many years without a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). For the past five to six years, I've developed a rhythm around my weekly pickup of vegetables, excited to see what my bin holds. I'd receive enough vegetables to last over a week, challenging me to discover uses for strangers to my regular cuisine (kohlrabi, kale, and assortment of squashes). When I got home, I'd spread all the vegetables on the kitchen counter, admiring their variety and quantity. Because of the amount I picked up each week for 26 weeks, beginning in mid June, I would usually refrain from purchasing vegetables in the grocery store (only supplementing for a little salad variety), for half the year. This helped save money since I stayed away from Whole Foods and other stores that consumed my paycheck.

The CSA, however, also contributed to some neurotic food habits--a compulsion to not waste a morsel of the veggie pickup. Pressure would mount when I peered into the refrigerator and spied the mounds of kale, chard, spinach, and lettuce threatening to wilt into an unusable state. I'd invent techniques to use and reuse, labeling myself the food conservator. I felt virtuous not wasting, but more importantly, my creative cookery side felt like it was on a weekly food challenge to create new dishes where vegetables starred.

At the end of the last season, my CSA filed for bankruptcy. Yes, I could have chosen another one, but due to a busy summer schedule of travel and less time at home, I opted to go CSA-less for a season. I needed a replacement for eating more seasonably, so have committed to regular visits to the local Farmer's Market, supporting different farms each week when I visit. I try to buy without thinking ahead of time what I'll do with the vegetables, giving me the chance to come home and stare, wondering how to use things up before they rot. And so, the other night, I prepared various dishes, using a combination of the market (beets, green onions, radishes), our garden that Nan planted (chard, spinach), and the store (tofu, cukes, olives).

While I like the freedom of choice that the Farmer's Market provides (I only choose what I'm interested in and don't have to place the undesired in the trade bin), I miss the surprise that the CSA bin holds. I miss my Sunday frenzies in the kitchen making vegetable stocks, veggie stews, and assorted other inventions, using up most of what I picked up the previous week to make sure there was room for the new pickup. I miss playing veggie detective, trying to discover the name of the veggie and its potential uses. I miss you CSA.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Confessions of an AP Reader

Every year in early June, I subject myself to a week plus of what I label white collar factory work. I bemoan its predictability, kvetch about the horrible food that is my board for the week, and basically curse my lot in life for the 8 days I set my alarm to 6:25 to be on time for my 8am-5:30pm job. At the end of each year's reading, I swear it will be my last, that I cannot possibly tolerate another 8 plus days of staring at messy handwriting offering interpretations of an argumentative prompt. Despite all of this, I return each year.

There is a tedium to the day that cannot be avoided. I am assigned to score one of the essays from May's English Language Advanced Placement exam. I wake extra early so that I can sit in bed and drink tasteless watered down hotel coffee, pretending with my roommate that today must certainly be my optional day off. Over the years, my roomie (a friend of more than 17 years) and I have perfected a hotel cooking system that allows us to avoid the lines and crowds of AP readers partaking of breakfast--fake eggs, greasy bacon/sausage, a few cereals, Yoplait yogurt, and other assorted ideas of morning fare. We procure yogurts and packaged oatmeal to cook for breakfasts. I have mastered a quick conversion of the coffeepot to a hot water dispenser, all within 30 minutes of waking. All this helps me savor the moments before I become one of the mass.

I enter the convention room and take my seat at the assigned table, bubble in the number that identifies me as a reader, the same one I have used for the last nine years, the only marker that separates me from everyone else in a chair at a table in a very large room. As the week progresses, the temperature in the room gets colder and colder, a clear strategy to keep fatigued readers from falling into an awake sleep. It is a predictable day of reading, scoring, 15 minute break. More reading, scoring, and an hour lunch break. An afternoon of reading, scoring, 15 minute break. Exhaustion when we are given the signal for dismissal. In each work day, I am more focused on a task, more obedient, more submissive to a group thinkspeak than is normal for me. It is the job, and in this job, I submit.

When I took the exam more than thirty years ago, I never imagined that I would have any lasting relationship with its pressure and measure of college level writing skills. Yet, due to that exam, I never took a college composition course, scoring high enough to place out of freshman level writing. And this very exam that continues to mark the anxiety of high school juniors in early May, now occupies a little over a week of my time.

During this week, I read hundreds and hundreds of responses to a provocative prompt (Question 3, the argument). I learn how students view positions by Aristotle, Plato, and Sartre, and I am reminded how articulate and pensive some young writers can be. Despite the tedium of a repetitive task, the monotony of hearing similar arguments and forcing myself to view the ideas as fresh and new, and the fact that there is a cumulative tiring when I work numerous hours in a row, I am not just relieved when the reading ends. The sentiments that these writers convey about priorities in the world, about the dangers of a materialistic culture, give me hope for the future.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

When mistakes don't matter

On the edge of the end of the semester, I am fully in a place where I'm celebrating what students are achieving rather than noting their mistakes, weaknesses, challenges, or whatever neutralish term I assign to the things I focus on that fall short of my assignment. Despite the hurried aspect of trying to get done, the end of the semester is when I enjoy reading their assignments, watching their presentations, and learning exactly what they have learned.

Mistakes don't matter when the literary magazine class has given me and my colleague, their project managers, as we prefer to refer to ourselves, the title in the masthead as Editor & Chief. We kind of like our new sense of selves, and thus, in future literary magazine classes, I imagine that Paul and I will introduce ourselves as the editor and chief. A pun is born that will carry forward.

At times I believe I should record myself at the end of the semester, a reminder that when I grow tired and a wee bit jaded (which fortunately is not often), I need to remember to celebrate student successes. Because it is during those moments that I am so grateful for the cool ass job I have.

At the end of the semester, I finally allow myself time to reflect, even if I profess I am so stressed because I have no time. It's like I can't help that voice inside that sees the rest ahead, that knows that I have worked so hard and am ready to just shake it all off, that voice that keeps reminding me of all the wonders I have experienced this semester.


  • I had a student I've known for a couple of years come out to me as trans, watching his face feel finally complete and relieved at being able to take a step into the body and being he sees himself as.
  • I watched a group of students who have spent most of the year hanging out in the GLBT Resource Center, shooting the shit, talking some nasty sometimes, laughing, hugging each other every day when they leave and sometimes enter, articulately convey to the school's President and Vice President of Student Success their needs regarding a new GLBT Resource Center. They were passionate, approachable, genuine, and made an impression--on the administrators They left their impression lingering on me.
  • I stood in front of a literary magazine class with my colleague and told the students at the start of the semester that in 15 or so weeks, they would produce a literary magazine from start to finish. When we broke down all the work, they looked daunted, not believing this could be. When they opened the boxes of the printed journals yesterday, they looked so proud at what they had accomplished, as a team, on their own. Tomorrow we celebrate with a publication party and an open mic.
  • And I anticipate tomorrow, when I get to watch groups of students put on dramatic presentations of plays they've remixed, showing me through their scripts and performance that they understand elements of drama, celebrating all their learning. Not paying attention to any mistakes.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Spring

When I hit this point in the semester, the point where the work never stops, the piles never reach a state of done, and I am Sisyphus, pushing my students and myself, I sometimes just stop. Today, after running some errands, I came home, exhausted, coaxing myself into an afternoon of grading. Before I could commit, I stepped outside to chat with Nan while she industriously prepared the garden. When I felt the spring warmth, I sat back in a bare lounge chair, not quite ready for its cushion, but on the cusp of days holding endless hours with nothing scheduled, nothing due.

Spring holds so much promise for days on my bicycle, spinning laps around Wash Park, staring about at dogs, people, flowers, and green, finally reflecting and creating in my mind. Spring reminds me that even though my freedom is less than ideal now, it is a choice and soon, I will have plenty of space and time for choice.

Time to grade.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Skim-Milk Marriage

Thank you Justice Ginsburg for finding a food analogy for marriage. The past two days of Supreme Court hearings related to the issues of same-sex marriage have put my brain and emotions on overcharge, analyzing with the pundits, unraveling the transcripts, trying to figure out what the words and sentiments mean, staring into my own obscured crystal ball, attempting to read the future.

I live in a state that passed an amendment limiting marriage to between a man and a woman. And while this state recently approved a civil union measure, I am left, as Ginsburg puts it, with not quite the real deal. While many friends celebrated the passage of civil unions, I found myself less than enthusiastic over it. Perhaps it was a year hangover from last year's Colorado legislature session, feeling the level of hate and obstruction that too often characterizes those opposed to sanctioning equal marriage for all. When the civil union measure just recently passed, I smiled relief, but wasn't entirely happy. Several times I've been asked whether Nan and I will civil union. The answer is maybe.

To engage in a civil union means to accept something less than what others have if they desire to publicly claim their union (marriage). And while civil unions accord a slew of rights all protected by a fee and signature, Nan and I already have piled high boxes of paperwork that we paid for years ago in the form of a trust to protect us and give us most of those rights.

When I move to the question of marriage--would I get married--the answer is maybe, probably, I hope. It all really boils down to that public expression of love. Yes, I want equal rights and the same opportunities as married couples, but what I want more is that public acknowledgement that sanctions my union, my love. I want my partnership to be celebrated rather than looked at as somehow not worthy of others. I didn't think I wanted marriage until I listened to Edie Windsor capture the sentiment of marriage best in this short video about her and Thea.

Over the past two days, watching the tweets and blogs roll in as the Supreme Court hearings finished, I found myself caught up in the hope of just decisions regarding the cases. On Facebook, people turned their profiles to the HRC equal symbol on a background of red. While some people chastised folks for simply changing their profile picture rather than doing real action such as contacting legislatures, I found the whole visual display uplifting. When I went to my page the other afternoon and saw a sea of red, I teared up because of the visible support, a moment when I did not feel marginalized and less than.

Honestly, the thing that I want most, and the thing that I don't expect to get, is for the Court to render a judgment that makes a sweeping gesture declaring that any law, any statute, any piece of legislation that places homosexuals in a lesser than category, unequal to heterosexuals, is unconstitutional and cannot be upheld. I would like to see a just declaration that reminds citizens that we are all created equal, and with that, we are all entitled to the same common good, benefits, liberties.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Passover

Sometimes life says you just have to change up the tradition a bit.

Most Passovers, I attend a seder, sitting around a table with a group of people, overstuffing on various courses, drinking wine, singing the traditions of the seder hosts. I like the ritual, the boisterous quality of lots of talk and joyous song, the memories of childhood and Passovers past. I also cannot resist a holiday that a former partner's son nicknamed The Reading Holiday--people sitting around a table reading from a shared book that tells the story of Passover.

As a child, we would have Passover seders with extended family, scrunched into tiny Brooklyn apartments, racing around the small rooms searching for the Afikoman, often hidden in between couch cushions or inside a piano bench. The seders would last an eternity, especially the second half, post dinner, which seemed extremely unnecessary except for opening the door for Elijah, drinking more wine, and singing songs.

When I moved out to Denver, miles too far to travel for a family seder, I attended friends' seders, adopting their traditions, their song renditions, their rhythm of the holiday. Tonight, though, Passover needed to change up a bit. After several weeks of exhausting travel to conferences, followed by a trip back east to a funeral that included lots of hours in the air, airports, and on the road driving, I couldn't muster the energy to attend a seder filled with people.


But, I didn't want to go through the evening without a sense of the holiday. I wanted some type of celebration, even if it was of my own rendition. I didn't really care about reading the story, singing songs, or even all the traditional dishes (that would have taken too much preparation). Instead, I wanted the house to smell of food. So, I lit a candle, set a table with placemats, and Nan and I dined on gefilte fish with horseradish, a lemon-garlic roast chicken, asparagus, and matzo with butter (a childhood treat). With the counters in chaos, the pets prowling about, Nan and I dined happily, in pajamas, at home.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

I Can't Resist You, Oscar

Tonight, I will take my perch upon the couch and spend three hours engrossed in the Academy Awards, guessing at the winners, cheering when I'm right, booing when my idea of art is ignored. And even though I know that when it is over, and I announce something akin to "that was a waste of three hours of my life," I will return again each year to spend the evening with Oscar.

I take my preparation seriously, aiming to see as many of the nominated films as possible, ensuring that I am an educated viewer able to pass judgment on film excellence. Since they changed the best picture nominees to a field of 10, I often fall short, as is the case this year. After a whirl of frantic filmgoing, I just couldn't keep up, and so Life of Pi and Les Miserables, I apologize. The other night I devoted hours to viewing all the nominated live action shorts and began viewing the animated shorts. As for the foreign films and documentaries--oh Oscar, I have failed you--although I do believe I have seen the best pics in each of the categories.

But it is not just the guessing that sirens me in each year. It's a cultural history, a ritual born in my early teens. Oscar night always meant a chance to stay up beyond my bedtime. Growing up on the East Coast, the ceremony usually went until 11:00 p.m. or beyond. Not only did staying up late mean a treat, but that night always held an element of surprise--not just in terms of unexpected winners, but in the pomp and circumstance of the speeches. I remember Jane Fonda's anti-war speech when I was 11, Littlefeather's speech (in lieu of Brando) about the treatment of Native Americans when I was 13, a shocked David Niven when a streaker commandeered the stage when I was 14, and Vanessa Redgrave's Palestinian fervor when I was 17.

Each year I'd look forward to the host (Billy Crystal's opening song and dance), the opportunity to banter about the choice of dress, the clips of best picture and other nominees, and the memorial clips of people who had died in the past year (always bringing on tears). Tonight, I will await the musical performance of Adele and clips, wondering when the night's memorable moment will fall.

But before then, I still have a few hours, Oscar, to take in the rest of the animated shorts.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Blogging as a Warm Up

Sometimes, when faced with the task of writing (and yes, it often feels like a task), I first delay, but then often settle upon writing a blog. It's low stakes--sort of. I don't seem to edit as much as I'm writing, leaving that task for a second or third read. Instead, I am somehow able to let my brain, the word-tick machine, simply dictate to the page. I begin with a particular thought, but that thought usually gets interrupted with ideas, with that click that happens when I settle into writing, when I stop fighting what I can't avoid, when I allow myself the time to do that which makes me smile deep inside. I never, well hardly ever, second guess the words that I put upon a page when blogging.

That doesn't mean I don't revise, question some language, attempt to craft to the best of my ability at the time. But I don't linger for hours, days, weeks, months, years with a piece on my blog. It is fluid. And it's something I can begin and end, usually in one sitting. Rarely, do I begin a blog and not finish it, abandoning it because I couldn't find enough to say, because I lost interest, because I was afraid of rejection.

It is instantly publishable, guaranteed an audience, even if that audience are only a few, even if that audience I can predict. Low stakes--sort of.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Writing Goals

I hate to admit it, but I actually sat down and composed some very specific writing goals for the coming year. While this admittedly might have begun as a delay tactic, having set aside the entire weekend to spend chunks of time doing some writing and arriving at day two still wandering in my mind, composing the goals did spur me to eventually write.

In the list of goals, I aimed to be concrete, accomplish specific things rather than achieve a certain behavior. Almost two years ago, when I needed to compose a set of writing goals in preparation to work with a writing coach, my goals were less tangible and included:

  • Build confidence in my sense of myself as a writer
  • Understand who I am as a writer
  • Understand craft more from a writer's perspective
  • Learn to embrace revision
Over these past years, I've learned that these goals will always remain a shifting constant. They are not something to achieve directly, but rather guiding principles in my work as a writer. I needed them as a starting point to reclaim myself as a writer, to be willing to do more than silently whisper the word writer. I need them now to keep me anchored in the writing, in the present, in my desire to keep refining my craft.

Today, I constructed a list of nine very specific writing tasks, a to do list blueprint to hold myself accountable throughout the coming months. They include:
And then, when I finished committing an accountability list to the page, I did work on a new piece that has been swirling in my mind and stirring in my memory for the past several months. Forcing myself to begin drafting about my rock 'n roll days, I spit words to the page, happy to have an 800 word start, even if very rough. 

While mining bits of my NYC days is a long-term project, I have folders of writing produced over the past two years of taking workshops at Lighthouse Writers. Thankful for all the pieces of writing that are worthy of my attention and revision, I feel mostly centered in my decision to see what I might do on my own, without the structure of a workshop, without the feedback and encouragement of a writing coach. Even though this feels a bit precarious, downright scary to have myself as the guide of discipline since I usually defy any type of schedule/structure, I am ready.

I have begun to do more than whisper writer. Recently, on a plane flight returning home, the woman next to me overheard a bit of my conversation I was having with Nan about bits of George's memoir draft I was reading. My plane neighbor turned to me at one point and asked, "Are you a writer?" I choked at first, and then answered, yes. It wasn't a loud yes, but more of a tentative yes. Although wavering, I had moved beyond silence. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

New Year Thoughts

On New Year's Day, it's difficult to avoid some bit of contemplation about what is forward, about the possibilities when looking out at the new year. In his essay "New Year's Eve," Charles Lamb nails it when he describes the significance of the day: "No one ever regarded the First of January with indifference. It is that from which all date their time, and count upon what is left." Similarly, in George William Curtis' essay "The New Year," he notes that the coming of the year is done so with "relentless punctuality...old Time, who turns his hour-glass with such a sonorous ring on New-Year's Day...." I am not indifferent to the beginning of 2013, reflecting back a bit on what has recently passed and what I desire in the coming of new.

I also am very aware of what the beginning of the year holds for many. A friend welcomes in a baby, her first-born, an intentional act of love with her partner, making me smile to know that she and him are showered in love as the year kicks into a new beginning for them. I spoke to my uncle on the telephone on this first of the year, and for him, 2013 holds a definite end, more of a saying goodbye and letting go rather than a looking forward. When I awkwardly tried to make conversation, not really knowing how to essentially say, "it sucks that you have cancer and are dying," he understood my stumble of words. Never being a very talkative uncle, he interrupted one of the silences during our brief call with, "I know it's hard to find the words." We ended with an exchange of "I love you," knowing that we might not speak them again to each other. Today, I also spent a fair amount of time on the telephone with my great uncle who is 96 and writing a memoir about his life as a publisher. For him, the writing is what he lives for, what keeps him going into the new year. "I wouldn't know what to do without this writing," he told me today as we talked about pieces of the memoir draft he sent me in the mail.

As I turn into the new year, I am reminded of my responsibility to be as present and grateful as I can for this fortunate life I live. While I can be a bit pollyannish at times, I wouldn't trade that trait, happy to see forward most of the time, even when darkest days hover. This past year felt very blissful. I am thankful for so many things, but here are some that stand out:

  • Being more present in my teaching. After a couple of years of breezing through my job because I am skilled, because I needed distance from the politics of where I work, I challenged myself with an entire new class (all new prep/material/assignments), new approaches in classes, and doing more than just showing up. Connections with students brought more joy, and I found myself again looking forward to teaching.
  • Finishing several pieces of writing, feeling good enough about my craft to send them forth into the world of publications. I also finally felt strong enough to open myself up to the rejection process of submitting. And while I did receive a few rejections, I also had two pieces published and one recently accepted, shortly to be published. I am so very very grateful that my writing is being read. 
  • I am surrounded by lots of love. It's the steadiness of Sasha who hasn't stopped following me around the house all day after 12 days of separation due to my vacation. It's the 12 days of vacation shared with two of my closest friends. It's my partner who is so happily much a part of my world and reminds me of how grateful I am to "measure a year in [my] life" with love. 
On the new year, I'm not much for resolutions, always knowing that I want to exercise more, read more, be present more. I am, though, heading forward with some intentions.
  • Be more active so that I can stop obsessing over a menopausal middle that is taking over my body.
  • Finish more writing pieces and send them out into the world for possible publication.
  • Embark on a 90 day promise (inspired when attending a Junot Diaz talk this past fall) to write for an hour daily. What makes this a real intention is that Diaz framed it in such a way that it's easy if you simply look at it as reading for an hour a day, with a pen and paper nearby, jotting things down when inspired (which always happens) by the reading. For today, I have spent more than an hour writing this blog.
  • Keep challenging myself at work. It's a good thing. 
And for everyone, as the year begins, I hope that you find New Year's Day as Edith Lovejoy Pierce did: "We will open the book. Its pages are blank. We are going to put words on them ourselves."