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.

Be A Bit More “Freddish”

Just read this 2018 article in The Atlantic – Mr. Rogers Had a Simple Set of Rules for Talking to Children.

Mr. Rogers was something else. He was insightful, caring, intentional, thoughtful, and creative. I’m sure he was much more, but that’s what I took away from this article.

We could learn a lot from Mr. Rogers.

“He insisted that every word, whether spoken by a person or a puppet, be scrutinized closely …”

What if, in our classrooms, we had that same insistence regarding our choice of words?

Yes, a classroom is quite different from Mr. Rogers’ TV show. He had the luxury of a script he could study and edit, as well as writers who would help him perfect his words. We are often working in the moment, on the fly. That makes it harder, but not impossible!

We don’t have scripts and writers, but we do have plans and colleagues. We also have the opportunity to reflect and revise. What would our plans, lectures, mini-lessons, conferences, and conversations sound like if our minds, hearts, and language were a bit more “Freddish”?

They’d be pretty fantabulous, don’t you think? Let’s start a movement.

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*According to the Atlantic article,  Rogers’ team of writers coined the term “Freddish” as a way to describe Rogers’ on air language.

 

Connecting Seemingly Unconnected Things

I love connecting seemingly unconnected things. Finding inspiration in disparate arenas has always fascinated me. I even thought of having that be my MA Creative Thinking dissertation topic, but I couldn’t figure out exactly how to approach it.

None-the-less, being open to finding inspiration in unexpected places, and actually doing so, serves me well. It is especially helpful when a more straightfoward or common answer is eluding me. Here’s a great example.

My foil squad qualified for our State Championships. I knew they needed some mental training to help them relax, believe, enter the fight, and fence their best. But, at 3:30pm as I was driving from school to coaching, I was still at a loss as to what we should do. As I drove I thought of many things. Most resulted in a resounding “Ugh! That’s not it.”

Then, thank goodness, my creativity loving brain saved the day. I had a bit of a eureka moment. My brain connected two seemingly unconnected things.

Jimmy Fallon’s Games with Guests – particularly the whisper challenge – rarely fail to crack me up! Here’s an example.

I’ve always wanted to play the whisper challenge. That would be the mental training exercise!

When I got to practice I wrote down various positive affirmations. I included ones we had used throughout the season, and ones I wanted them to hear. I explained the game to any who were unfamiliar, and we started.

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My fencers exhibited behavior they would need at the championships. They laughed. They struggled. They worked together in order to succeed. They never gave up. And, they repeatedly told each other positive phrases. It was AWESOME!

Now I have my brain working on how to do the whisper challenge in Kindergarten!

Creative Spark!

Yesterday, I picked up my copy of Journal Sparks: Fire up Your Creativity with Spontaneous Art, Wild Writing, and Inventive Thinking. I was hoping for a creative spark from Emily Neuburger. She did not disappoint.

Flipping through the first few pages I came upon suggestions of what my journal might be. I’d used that list before to great results. This time I was struck by this possibility:

This journal is a small, handmade, accordion journal (see page 132) that is meant to be completely filled in one day.

Hmmm. I know how to make accordion journals. They’re simple and fun. I flipped to page 132. But, it was page 133 that caught my eye. I’d made these books before as well. I even taught them at a book-making workshop I led for educators. It’s a quirky little cut which allows for many possibilities as you use the book.

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When I presented it to my fellow educators, they were a bit unsure of its quirkiness. The ambiguity of the way the pages progress was a bit disconcerting. I encouraged them to just give it a go and see what their students did with it.

At the time I was thinking book, not journal, so I could understand their discomfort. We typically think of books as progressing in a particular manner. But, now, approaching it as a journal, I absolutely love it! The concept of a journal, filled in one day, on an unconventionally folded piece of paper is fantabulous! The ambiguity actually adds to its fantabulousness. (Note: Perhaps we need to be open to ambiguity in our books as well! It may turn out to be an equally remarkable twist.)

At first I was a bit unsure how I would fill the journal in one day. Would I just sit and fill it? Didn’t know. Didn’t care. Just wanted to do it.

I folded, cut, and folded again to create the journal. I played around with it for a bit before I did any writing/drawing. It’s super interesting the different ways you can open and turn the pages. After a considerable amount of folding, refolding, opening, looking, wondering, I chose the way I wanted to proceed. I put my first entry on the cover. I had places to go and things to do, so I put the journal down and set about the next part of my day.

In my car, I noticed an old tea bag tag I’ve had in there for what seems like forever. Perfect! When I got back in the house, I glued it to the next page. Later in the day I was feeling the need for some stretching so I did a bit of yoga. Awesome. I added it to my journal with simple stick figures and words. Still later I noticed my impatience (I’m working on that) so I added a quote about gratitude versus complaining.

I was struck by the awesomeness of this simply, small, out of the ordinary journal as a opportunity for mindfulness and reflection. Since each page is so small it’s really simple to fill them. You can make a really quick jot, or you can be more involved if time allows, and it makes you happy.

The idea of filling the book in a day was key for me as it forced me to create small moments in my day. The last pages were done right before my night prayers. It was a lovely way to wrap up my day. It gave me an opportunity to record the things I wanted to remember as I closed my day and my eyes.

I shared the finished journal with my brother. As I talked to him, I opened the journal in several different ways. As I did, I realized you could do two days if you wanted. The folds allow the blank pages to be accessed easily, so I could fill in another day if I wished. I also noticed I hadn’t stayed on the same side with all my entries. It might be interesting to do that. He remarked “Perhaps you could watercolor each side and then follow that. It’d be an easy way to maintain each side.” True! And it would be pretty!

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I’m in the process of making this ridiculously simple journal for my friends. It has profound possibility and potential. I love it for the opportunity to be curious, to flip back and forth between possibilities, make choices, reflect, have fun, breathe, be mindful, and do some writing and drawing. I may do several of my own. They’d be great to have to return to, reflect, remember and be inspired.

I kind of want to send one to each of my colleagues — to encourage stopping, breathing, reflecting, creating, and mindfulness. I definitely want to use them with my Kindergartners — and not just as a book (though books are spectacular) but as an opportunity to be, and experience all those lovely fantabulous things.

 


Make your own:

If you use a rectangular sheet of paper (as Emily does) you end up with rectangular pages. You can use a square piece of paper if you prefer square pages.

Fold the paper in half long ways and short ways. Then, fold each half in half. This should get you 16 rectangles/squares.

Following the folds, begin on one of the outer folds and cut to just before your final rectangle (if you don’t stop, you cut the piece off). Turn your paper and continue cutting along the fold to just before the last rectangle. You continue in a spiral-like manner until any cuts would result in cutting a piece off the paper.

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Then re-fold, explore, and enjoy.

Feeling Like A Kindergartner

Have you ever worked in an art journal? It’s an interesting experience.

There is no throwing away the pieces you don’t like. They stay there — forever — mocking you.

LOL!!!

Yes, quite dramatic. But, it does feel that way. And yes, I suppose I could just gesso the page, or collage over it, but I’d still know it was there — mocking me.

I continue my dramatics to make a point. My Kindergartners feel that way! When they make a piece of art they don’t like, the emotion they feel is often so strong as to be painful. I’m glad I’m engaging in a form of art that allows me to experience, and learn to regulate, these feelings.

Yesterday and today I experimented with a mixed-media piece. I began with watercolors and masked circles. Then I collaged in pieces of water birch bark, and torn pieces of sheet music. I was intrigued by the common color of the two. Then I used acrylic paint to add bits of bolder color, and to begin to incorporate the collage elements more fully.

I had only a vague idea where I wanted to go.

  • I wanted the circles to be my repeated marks.
  • I knew at some point in my process, I’d use gel pens or paint pens to add some lines, dots, and words.
  • I have circle stencils I thought might work to continue my repeated element and give an added depth.
  • Words salvaged from magazines would be fab if I could find ones I liked.

Here’s where I landed next.

I liked it, but I wanted to add more. True to form with this project, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to add. Makes sense, I suppose, because I began the project without a clear end, more with a desired process.

So, I repeated the stenciled elements on the right side of the piece. Then I added spirals with a light blue acrylic paint marker. I liked the spirals. They reminded me of water being hit with drops of rain, and added another element of depth.

I added lines and marks using white, silver, and gold paint pens. Several times I considered stopping. Each time I thought “Nope.” and continued.

At that moment I remembered my Kindergartners. There are moments when they are making an art piece that I think to myself. “Oh, that is good.” Do they stop? Sometimes. But other times, nope. I struggle with suggesting they might want to be finished. Perhaps they are experiencing what I was experiencing with this piece. It’s a unique combination of flow, joy, and pleasure with the process. It’s cool!

Here’s the finished page.

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It’s busy. But it was so much fun. And, even though it’s busy, I think it’s quite beautiful. The dots, lines, words, patterns, ideas, collaged pieces, and decisions are all a reflection of me and my process.

Perhaps another time I wouldn’t make it so full. But perhaps I would. Either way is fantabulous. Either way is me. That’s what I want my Kindergartners to experience. Flow. Joy. Agency. The fantabulousness of them and their art.

There is so much about this project that I’d love my girls to experience.

Now to consider — what, when, and how.

My thinking cap is on.

_______________

Btw:
The AP Stylebook tweets: Our preferred spelling is kindergartner, not kindergartener.