I’m Taking That Home

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I’m making a pile of things I want to remember when I go to work. Gloves, scarf, hat, sunglasses, and paper towel rolls.

I almost recycled the paper towel rolls. But, as I held them in my hand, I flashed back to my classroom on Friday. This sweet, quiet, creative Kindergartner pointed to her bag and said “I’m taking that home, Ms. James.”

I looked down, and for a split second wasn’t sure she was talking about. Then I saw it — a paper towel roll. For another second I wasn’t sure where she got it. Then it hit me. We wipe tables after snack and lunch. The Kindergartners are each responsible for their own clean up. Her table must have finished their paper towel roll, and she, quick thinking lucky duck, had collected the roll.

She repeated. “I’m taking it home.” And, after a pause, explained, “I’m gonna make something with it.”

I said, “That is awesome. Can’t wait to see it.”

Clearly it’s time for more paper towel rolls in Kindergarten.

Magenta and Naples Yellow

I took some time to breathe, and make art in my art journal today. It was pretty fabulous.

My first few tries and marks were quite uninspiring. It’s part of the angst of having an art journal — those uninspiring or downright dreadful attempts. Sometimes it keeps me from working, or, I work but resist trying new things. Thankfully, today, I was able to set my angst aside. I covered my less than pleasing attempts with a lovely layer of white gesso, and, as simple as that, I was ready to go again.

I picked medium magenta, quinacridone magenta, and naples yellow from my acrylic paint box. Definitely not my typical color palette. Magenta, yes. Shades of magenta, sure. Naples yellow? Nope. Naples yellow and magenta? Big fat nope. But today, for whatever reason, the colors spoke to me, and I listened.

Then, I sorted through my collage stash looking for colors, words, images, or texture that worked with the colors on the page. I placed papers on the page, squinted, tilted my head, rearranged, and thought.

Eventually I made my choices — a mustardy yellow-brown page with mismatched fonts spelling possibility, a pinkish lotus flower, and a quote about failing. I went through the same process with the chosen papers – placing, adjusting, tearing, squinting, looking, and thinking. After a while, I was satisfied.

I loved the darkness of the water surrounding the lotus flower. But, I definitely needed another splash of darkness to tie that water to the rest of the work, and create a bit more balance. As with my initial work, my first attempt at adding darkness was less than pleasing. No worries, add a bit more collage. Perfect!

What about abstract lines and squiggles? I’d just seen someone play with them in their art journal. I liked the look, and it seemed a good and simple way to accomplish my goal.

Turns out I was wrong. It is fabulous, and it’s a good idea, but it is not easy — at least not for me. Who knew how difficult it can be make relaxed lines and squiggles? Certainly not me.

I’m going to do some “squiggle study” so I’m more prepared in the future. But for now, I forged ahead, and hoped for good things. I decided to include words in and with my squiggles. I allowed the natural flow of handwriting to inform my squiggle practice.

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I’m not completely satisfied with the result, but I like it quite a bit. And, perhaps more importantly, I am intrigued by the process, and enjoyed all the making, thinking, creating, and reflecting involved.

What I first noticed was that the uncharacteristic choice of naples yellow opened the door for the possibility paper. Then, the lotus flower in the intensely dark water encouraged me to add the black marks. My inability to make the marks the way I wanted caused me to add words and word-like doodles. As I looked, wondered, worked and reflected, I noticed more, and had more aha moments. Here are a few of my reflections.

POSSIBILITY – Possibility, and my openness to possibility, started and sustained the process.

LOTUS – What a great image. The color was lovely – a beautiful blush pink against that intensely bold dark water. Drops of water always fascinate me, so having them on the lotus was a bonus. And, everything the lotus stands for — growing from the depths of darkness, strength, movement, beauty — is fantabulous. I’m a big fan.

LOVE – The first word I wrote in my word-like scribble was love.Funny enough it didn’t seem to matter if the word could be read. Simply having it present made everything else possible. That seems true in my life as well.

ALL THINGS — All things are possible. All things, even those that seem impossible.

FAIL. FAIL AGAIN. FAIL BETTER. — That is just spectacular. There is so much to ponder in those three sentences. And, goodness gracious, there are so many things at which I should willingly fail, fail again, and fail better.

FEAR — As I thought about failing, and fear, my first thought was  — release fear. But, as I sat with that, I realized sometimes I really need to just embrace fear, and perhaps even be willing to simply coexist with it in peace.

CREATIVITY — My choice to be creative — to stretch beyond my comfort zone, try new things and risk failure — opened me to a myriad of experiences, joy, and realizations.

I love this stuff. It’s so very interesting. I could go round and round — possibility, love, fail, fail again, fail better, be fascinated, look, learn, see the possible, do the possible, do the impossible — and then start again at any one of those points.

Possibility is everywhere, and creativity is always an option. My plan is to seize, create, or just be peacefully open to possibility and creativity, with each breath, gaze, and thought.

Favorite Time of the Year

There are a lot of awesome times and moments each year. This is one of my favorites.

Finger knitting has begun.

They are SO into it. And, I am SO into them being into it!

I love their joy, enthusiasm, determination, and willingness to help each other. And I love being present to experience, document, knit with them, or help when needed or asked.

Those are my feet in the 3rd photo. Smaller and less central to the action than their fingers, hearts, and brains, but present none-the-less.

I love the image, and the reality.

I am present. I am still me. But somehow, they have become larger than me. Their agency, their work, their presence, is strong, beautiful, and grand.

As I’m writing this, I’m feeling that I am not adequately explaining this experience. I have written, deleted, thought, written again, deleted again, and written once more as I try to more cogently describe the reality of these moments in time.

I have gotten closer, but still feel I fall short. It is as though there is something magical I just cannot express. And yet, it isn’t magic. It’s us.

Hmmm … perhaps that’s it. 

It isn’t magic. It is us. And yet, we — and our relationship and interactions — are extraordinarily marvelous, and delightfully fantabulous. I will continue to think, to write, and to re-write. But, for now, I will embrace the magic that is me, that is them, that is us.

 

Every Time

Teaching is not an easy job. It’s a great one, but certainly not an easy one.

Each day of teaching is a mix of incredibly awesome moments — joy, discovery, laughter, learning, negotiating, helping others, finding problems, brainstorming possible solutions, experimenting, exploring, being inspired – as well as frustratingly annoying and energy sapping moments.

In each moment it’s possible for us to be our best selves. Possible, but not simple or easily done.

I’ve been experiencing some of those difficult moments lately. Painful, frustrating, make me want to quit kind of moments. And then — thankfully — I got an unexpected, and lovely reminder that I shouldn’t quit.

One of my girls ran back into the classroom after being dismissed, and handed this to me. “Here. This is for you.”

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I love you too, my sweet, strong, and courageous girl.

This is why I work as hard as I do. This is why I am constantly learning, and why I always work to improve my practice. This is why I endure the angst and frustration.

I do it because I love these young humans. I do it so I am always prepared to help them – every time.

Thankfully, my mighty wee ones reach out and help me as well – every time.

No One Knows

If you are a regular follower of my blog, you know I have cancer. If you aren’t a regular, but happened upon my blog today — welcome, and let me hip you to my diagnosis. I have Waldenstroms Macroglobulanemia. It’s a rare form of non-hodgkin’s lymphoma.

This December I’ll actually have survived, and with some regularity, thrived, with WM for 11 years. Amazing to say — especially considering the first prognosis was that I would leave the planet in 5 years. Clearly, and thankfully, that information was incorrect.

Lately I’ve been struggling a bit more with how WM makes me feel physically, emotionally, and mentally. WM compromises my immune system making me more likely to get sick. I’m not sure if it’s because of the immune system connection but it also sometimes just knocks me out — with little or no warning. I will be up and about, doing the myriad of things I do, and out of the blue – WHAM! — I am completely exhausted. Sometimes that makes me feel a bit crazy, or like a completely weakling.

Funny, as my struggle has been increasing, so have the comments from people I meet. No one notices the struggle. (I think that’s a testament to my ability to breathe, and do, and be — and to all the amazing people that hold me up in so many different ways.) They all say “WOW! You look FANTASTIC!!!”  It cracks me up. The latest person told me every time they see me, no matter what I’m going through, I seem to have an ethereal glow about me. (Wow.)

So regardless of how I feel, I’ve decided to accept these statements as truth. I look (and am) fantastic, and I glow, with an ethereal glow.

But today, glowing or not, I’ve felt incredibly frustrated, irritated, and emotionally spent. Funny, feeling all that is frustrating, irritating and emotionally draining. But, to be kind to myself I am just getting over one of those 3 day in bed episodes.

As I drove home after work I wondered — with as little crankiness and judgement as possible — “What is wrong with me?!? Why is this sometimes so painfully, crushingly difficult?” This, along with a myriad of other questions that come in these moments of angst.

To ease the pain in my chest, I took a few deep breaths, said a prayer, and turned on Audible. I started listening to I’ll Push You.

As I listened I thought … oh yeah, that’s it. One of the reasons this is so tough is because I’m capable and strong. I have been my whole life, and I take some pride, comfort, and enjoyment in that. I love pushing myself, and being in control, and crushing goals and obstacles, and, did I mention, being in control.

F*ck. It’s hard to not be in control. It’s hard to face my own inability to crush this. It’s hard to be weak at times. Makes me cry. The tears feel like a sign of weakness, but I think the willingness to shed them, to feel the pain that causes them, is a sign of strength. So funny right? A willingness to experience weakness and fear, is actually a strength.

Every day — sometimes every moment — I’m working on it. Working on being healthy, being strong, being weak, eating well, hydrating, taking care of my emotional and mental wellbeing, asking for help, giving help, accepting kindness, giving kindness, praying, trusting God, asking the Saints and angels to be with me, having admirably stubborn optimism, glowing, and sometimes, weeping and questioning it all.

In I’ll Push You, when asked about the prognosis, Justin says “No one knows.” I think that’s true with me as well. No one really knows. No one knows when I’ll need treatment again, when my symptoms will become more severe, when they will discover a cure, or when I’ll leave the planet. I’ve never been a big fan of that. But today, it seemed,  “no one knows” is the perfect prognosis.

Picasso once said “Everything you can imagine is real.” Why not imagine a great prognosis and a beautiful life — no matter what? Cancer-free, cancer-light, or cancer-not-so-light, life still is, and it’s good.

Funny,  as I write this, I feel like vomiting. It isn’t easy to be human, or have cancer, or be afraid, or not be sure what’s what. But, it’s all good.

So I embrace my glow — my ethereal glow — no matter what. And, since no one knows, I will imagine fantabulousness, and breathe through all else.

Perhaps by now you are wondering what this has to do with creativity. For a while so was I! Obviously it has to do with creativity because it’s about me — the creativity loving educator. But, as I sip my cup of tea and take a moment to think, I believe the connection to creativity is deeper.

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Creatives look at things differently. We choose to imagine things that others do not. We engage in possibility thinking, wondering, risking, learning, and living with curiosity, joy, and openness.

 

Creativity is about life — surviving, thriving, and glowing — even when we feel like vomiting!

Oh, I must add that to my imagining — fantabulousness with no anxiety induced nausea. Ah yes, that is good.

 

 

 

I Can Do It!

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Our “no fretting shields 2.0” have arrived! Or to be more precise, have been made.

I decided to be more intentional with the folders this year. I bought folders that would only be used as no fretting shields — nothing else. I decorated them, and then considered what words I might add to them.

I wanted the words to be an affirmation, encouragement, or a reminder to breathe. And, I wanted it to be something all my girls could read. I finally decided on “I can do it!” It seemed perfect because it was something they would say about and to themselves — I can do it — not something someone else said about them — You can do it.

I got to see the shields in action today.

There are tons of assessments to be done in the beginning of the year — they help me learn a bit about my students, and be a better teacher. As I started to work with one of my girls, she noticed the folders sitting on a chair next to me.  She asked what they were, and then asked if she could try one while we worked together.

Of course!!!

I asked her if she knew what it said. She did. She read it, and we got to work.

At one point she expressed a lack of confidence in herself. I chuckled, and asked her what she had just read on the no fretting screen. She repeated it, smiled, and tried again. (YAY!)

Then, in a bit, as I watched her struggle to write one of the numerals, I almost said. “Can I show you how to make it?”

Oh my GOSH!

Thank goodness I had the awareness, and self control to keep that thought to myself, and allow her to continue to struggle and try. She was unfazed by the struggle. It was me who was uncomfortable with her need for hard work, risk, and possible failure.

There will come a time when I will step in and help her perfect her work. This was not that time.

If I had allowed those words to pass my lips. I would have negated the affirmation of the no fretting screen. My apparent kindness — trying to help — would have only proven that I can do it, not that she could. I would have unintentionally said I didn’t believe in the value of hard work, hard thought, and struggle. I would have suggested she couldn’t do it without my help. Ugh.

As I looked at the folder I realized that as she spoke the words “I can do it!” to herself, she also spoke them to me.

“I can do it, Miss James! Trust me. Trust the process. Trust our relationship. It’s all good.”

Water is the Upside Down Sky

Hiking always refreshes, and challenges my watercolor practice. I love looking and gazing and wondering how I might adequately capture with watercolor, what I see with my eyes.

This year I was super curious and delighted by the sky and water. If you have a moment, give the sky and water around you more of your attention. They are amazing gifts.

Here they are in three different, yet equally beautiful scenarios. (Just looking at the photos transports me back, and makes my breath deepen and lengthen. Sigh.)

Then, and now, as I look at them, and endeavor to paint them, I realize my brother is right.

“Water is just the upside down sky!”

It’s Going to Be a Fantabulous Year!

I was hiking a few weeks ago, and ended up hiking out fairly late. With a few miles to go the sun was setting. Far before I reached the end, it was dark and I was tired. The darkness and the tiredness made me a bit fearful, not particularly joyful, and interestingly enough, a bit more tired.

Realizing my plight, I chose a few positive thoughts to repeat to myself as I walked. “I am strong. I am fierce. I am brave.” As it got darker, and I got more tired, I upped my positivity game. “I am strong and getting stronger. I am fierce and getting fiercer. I am brave and getting braver.” (And yes I realize fiercer is not really a word, but it worked for me.)

Thankfully I wasn’t hiking out alone, and we had flashlights. The lights were small but still enabled us to search for the blaze, and then illuminate the path a few steps ahead. We relied on the blaze we had just seen, our assessment of the ground before us, our ability to traverse rocky and root filled paths, and our memory. My brother occasionally reminded me “One step at a time.” With the camaraderie, the light, and the positive thinking — inside and outside of my own brain — we made it back to the car without incident.

As we drove home, I thought about the new school year, and the hike I had just finished. The hike seemed the perfect metaphor for the school year. As educators we start the year with grand ideas, wonderful plans, and a good bit of exuberance. At some point, or hey, at many points, we end up tired and in darkness (literally and figuratively). Often we can only see the blaze right before us.

That’s OK. No worries! It’s at those moments — even more than usual — that we have to rely on each other. And, alone or together, we must trust our thinking, our assessment of the situation, and our ability to move — even in the dark.

It’s helpful to remind ourselves of the tools we have — even if they aren’t the tools we wish we had — and use our big beautiful creative brains to elevate their usefulness. I usually have a headlamp when I hike. Unfortunately I forgot to pack it this hike, so I only had a very small flashlight. It was tough to hold it and use my hiking poles at the same time.

At some point, I realized I could make a headlamp. I was wearing a fleece hat, and my sunglasses were perched on top of it. I stopped for a moment, positioned the flashlight under my hat, and secured it with my sunglasses. It worked fantabulously!

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The success and enjoyment of my hikes, and my school year depends on my preparation,  my language, my breath, the people I surround myself with, and the story I tell myself. Just like when I hike it’s all about one step at a time. And if I can only see that one step ahead, I need to take it and move in the direction that seems right. At some point it will either be confirmed and I will continue, or I will realize I’ve made a wrong turn, back track a bit, and start again. It’s all good. It’s all growth. It’s all fascinating.

So, my educator peeps. Get your headlamps ready. Gather your friends. Breathe deep. Be positive. Be fierce. Be brave.

It’s going to be a fantabulous new school year.

Gratitude and Awe

Have you heard of Brother David Steindl-Rast? I can’t recall when I first came upon him. What I do recall is listening to his audible book The Grateful Heart over and over again as I commuted to and from work. I love his voice, his spirit, and his ideas.

I recently rewatched his  TEDtalk — Want to Be Happy? Be Grateful  and short video A Grateful Day. I was nearly weeping as I finished them. There is so very much for which to be grateful. Moments of gift surround us every day, we need only, as Brother David says, open our hearts to them.

My heart was open the other day as I chatted with a dear friend of mine. As we talked, she told me that I am one of the people who most encourages her as an artist. I was kind of surprised. I admire her as a creative. She’s a creative thinker and has an artist’s soul. She’s definitely a creative, and a talented photographer and poet. Now that I write those words, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’m reflecting my true thoughts to her.

A few years ago I read Creative Confidence by David Kelley and Tom Kelley. I was struck by their desire to help others grow in creative confidence. To quote them, they wanted to “help individuals and organizations unleash their full potential— and build their own creative confidence.” (from the preface) I still remember reading that and thinking “SO DO I!!!!” (And yes, I do believe I actually yelled that! lol)

I no longer yell that — well, not very often — but it remains very true. Creating space for others to experience themselves for the creative we all are, is very important to me.

So when my friend shared with me, it was a “wow!” moment. I don’t think I acknowledged the wow-ness to her, instead I just stood in the moment and listened.  As I listened, she continued. In beautiful, humble gratitude, she told me I also helped her grow in her faith.

Again … wow! I always want — through my words, actions, and being — to encourage others in faith — faith in God, faith in possibilities, faith in themselves, faith in goodness, truth, and beauty.

The opportunity to make a positive difference in the life of another — for creativity and faith — is a gift. The doing it, and being told about it — again, a gift. I am so very grateful for my friend  our friendship, the ways we help each other grow, and for her willingness to tell me. It was a great gift to me. It was a moment to bask in gratitude and awe.

I don’t just have those opportunities with this friend. I’m blessed to be an educator and have those opportunities each time I go to work.  As educator I have the opportunity help each child who crosses my path believe in themselves as creatives, as thinkers, and as hopeful, faith-filled people. I also have the opportunity to grow in the same ways, due to my encounters with my students. And I have the opportunity to gift them with my thanks.

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I was talking with a young friend who is beginning her student teaching this year. I asked if she was excited. She said, “Yes, but honestly a bit overwhelmed as well.”

Yes, a bit overwhelmed! I think all educators can echo that sentiment. I think — within reason — it’s much like nerves in an athlete. It isn’t a bad thing. It’s an indication that we understand what is before us. We understand that we are doing something quite important. What we do matters.

I figure every year, I”ll experience a bit of that astonished, and sometimes heavy, sense of wow. I hope, pray, and trust that I will never cease to remember that the overwhelm and struggle is real and important. Then, with many breaths I hope, pray, and trust that I will treasure each opportunity as a gift, and always look with awe at the beautiful souls entrusted to me.

Blessings, peace, and joy to my fellow educators! Every day is an incredible opportunity,  a remarkable gift, a profound responsibility.  Be grateful. Enjoy them. Bask in them. Share them. 

 

 

Create Space

A while back I was experimenting with ideas from Joanne Fink’s book about zenspiration dangle design.

I’m not quite sure if Joanne suggested dangling a circle or if I came up with the idea. But it enjoyed playing with it. After finishing the exterior side of the circle, I decided to dangle the interior portion as well. Even now I’m intrigued by the different sense of the design on either side of the circle.

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For some reason the outer design maintains its outward flow. When I look at it, it doesn’t change. It is strong, steady, open, and ever reaching. I am attracted to the balance between white space and color, between lines, shapes, and openness, between straight lines and curved.

My relationship to the inner circle work feels much different. I am at one and the same time attracted and somewhat disturbed by it. The structures do not maintain a particular direction, but seem to move depending on where my gaze lands. I notice the same elements of line, color, and open space. But, I feel a sense of conflict as the various elements converge on the center.

As I wondered what to do, I remembered a henna design the awesome Catherine Lent did for me. In the midst of her beautifully intricate design, she had an empty circle. We chuckled about it as she worked around it. After checking with me to be sure I was ok with it, she left it empty. She said something like, “Sometimes it’s good to leave a bit of space.”

Hmmmm. Space. Yes, leave a bit of space, or create a bit of space.

I went back to my drawing and covered the tightness of the center with a small circular piece of white paper.

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I love it! I am intrigued by the space I created in the center. It is at one and the same time empty and yet full of stillness, openness, wonder, and possibility.

This speaks to me for my life as much as it does for my art.

In art, and in life it’s good to have space. Space for possibility. Space for stillness. Space for breath and being.

Space.

Sometimes it’s hard to find.

But, just like with this piece of art, I can step back, make a choice, and create space in my life, my heart, my mind.

Breath, prayer, times of sitting, a walk, are some of the small white circles that I place upon my life to create calm, still, open moments.

Sometimes it’s nice to leave a little space … or to create it.