A Little Something

A few weeks ago I got a message from a former colleague.

Hey wonderful woman. Would you mind sending me your address? I have a little something to send you.

I chuckled at her beautifully affirming greeting, and sent my address without delay. I felt the delight of a child who knows a little something is in the works.

The package arrived the other day. It was a good size, but extremely light, and made no noise as I moved it into a space for quarantining. I wondered what it might be, and with all the patience I could muster, I waited for its quarantine to end,

Yesterday was the day. Eyes wide, I opened the box. As I folded back the flaps, a smile burst forth on my face, and I laughed out loud.

It was a veritable flock of paper cranes!

That flock is the perfect little something!

I often make paper cranes to share with friends, or leave for others to find. And here they were — with all the hope, joy, love, and wishes I try to infuse into mine — flying back to me. It was fantabulous to pull them out of the box.

My kids made the paper cranes — a symbol of healing — for you. You are always in my prayers.

Wow!

If you’ve ever wondered if kindness matters, wonder no more. It does. These cranes. Notes and thoughtful gifts from Kindergarten alums and their families. Zoom call check ins. Showing a friend how to use her sewing machine via zoom. Praying for and with one another. Listening, laughing, crying together. Chatting on the porch (over 6 feet away) bundled up with masks and a heater. Affirmations sent through WhatsApp. Appreciating one another. Breathing before reacting. Saying thank you. Sharing positive news stories. Walking slower or faster to keep up with your walking partner. Kindness matters! It all matters.

The cranes fly peacefully next to my chair. They accompany me with their wishes and whispers of health, happiness, resiliency, wisdom, beauty, strength, hope, gratitude, and kindness. When I see them out of the corner of my eye, they draw my gaze. Looking at them I wonder about the folding session. Often I reach out and touch them — enjoying the rustling of their paper wings and the shiny bead holding them together.

One more time. Kindness matters. Go be kind.

Who Am I As A Writer?

What an interesting question. At first my response was, “I really don’t know. I just write.”

But, on further introspection, nothing could be further from the truth. I don’t ever, or rarely, just write. I always write to understand, to teach, or to create the perfect moment. Often I do it to create a space of positivity, affirmation, encouragement, and hope, that can be returned to as often as needed.

Sometimes I do it for me. Sometimes I do it for others. But it’s always the same. It starts with an idea, or a need, and it moves forward through many iterations. It’s a lot like my art making. I do it for the fun of the experience, the process, the flow, and the product.

I write and create art to tell stories — for myself and others.

More and more I am discovering and experiencing the power of stories. I want to fill the world, or at least my little part of it, with stories of goodness, truth, beauty, courage, and kindness.

That is who I am as a writer, artist, creative. Heck that is who I am as a human being. Or at least, it is who I strive to be.

Here is a shot of the latest story I am telling myself, and anyone who needs to hear it.

There is joy and possibility even in the wonkiness. And amazingly enough, sometimes there is great joy and possibility. I am loving the wonkiness of the mandala — created purposefully — and I’m thinking of working on a series!

Imagination, Curiosity, Creativity, Possibility, Hope, Peace, Joy, and Faith

I breathe best in a space of imagination, curiosity, creativity, possibility, hope, peace, joy, and faith. In some way, my breath supports each one, and each one supports my breath. In an equally powerful way, each moment of imagination, curiosity, possibility, hope, creativity, peace, joy, and faith, grows from, and feeds each other.

IMAGINATION is a mighty force. Sometimes it seems like a playground in my mind.

CURIOSITY often produces a laugh, entices me to exploration, and calls to my creativity.

CREATIVITY (thinking and doing) is looking with new eyes, open to the surprise, uniqueness, and possibility.

POSSIBILITY (thinking and being), is for me, the food of hope, peace, and joy.

HOPE, PEACE, and JOY are everything. They keep me going, and help me impact my world (inside and out) in positive ways.

FAITH – in myself, others, God, things larger than myself, the process, imagination, curiosity, creativity, possibility, hope, peace, and joy – makes it all possible. It encourages me to try when it seems I cannot, to believe when I do not, and to take another breath, and just be.

The other day, as I finished up my 9 hour infusion, a little loopy, and frankly, a little desperate. I didn’t feel like I had imagination, curiosity, creativity, possibility, hope, peace, joy, and faith, but none-the-less, I reached for them, and thankfully they were there!

I hadn’t brought much with me, just a small notebook, and a pen. What could I do with that?

I could occupy my mind and my hands, and fold an origami crane and a simple rectangular box.

I tore out a page, ripped it in half, and began to create. I made one of each. Then I took out another page. I decorated the page before I ripped it in half and folded another.

My breath eased a bit.

They say if you fold a 1000 paper cranes wishes come true, luck, and hope abound.

I say, 2 cranes and two paper boxes, folded with imagination, curiosity, possibility, hope, creativity, peace, joy, faith, and simple presence, might hold the same power. I took a photo to keep with me, and left the cranes, boxes, and any good they hold, for someone else to find.

Look for it. Feel it. Name it.

I had the opportunity to chat with two of my colleagues this morning. It was a great exchange. It was wonderful to see one another (virtually), to listen, and to share. I left feeling connected, encouraged, and uplifted, with lots of things to think about.

One of my colleagues shared that so many people she’s communicating with now have heavy hearts. I could feel the weight as she spoke. People are struggling to feel joy. In the face of so much discord, difficulty, fear, injustice, illness it makes sense to feel a powerful incongruence. How might one legitimately feel joy, or be justified to do so, when so much is wrong around us. Everyone is dealing with such strong feelings – many of them less than positive. It’s a struggle to figure out how to sit with it all.

Thinking about it, I responded. “Maybe it’s because I’m a Kindergarten teacher, but my first thought is to quote Mr. Rogers. — Look for the helpers. There are always helpers.”

For me that translates into look for the good, the positive — there is always good and positive. I thought for a bit and continued. “I think if we don’t look for the good, if we don’t experience, embrace, and celebrate whatever good and joy we find, then evil wins in an even stronger way.”

We must continue the fight. We must acknowledge the things that are not right, the things that anger us, frighten us, or sadden us. We must sit with all those who suffer. We must cry out for justice and mercy. But, at the same time, we must, I think, continue to look for, and find, joy. We must continue to hope.

After talking, I resumed a yoga and mindfulness course I’m taking with Little Flower Yoga. It included a video of children and parents sharing their experiences with mindfulness. I was struck by how much they were speaking to my conversation with my colleagues, and the one I’ve been having with myself as I prepare to start my cancer treatment again this week.

Mindfulness, they said, helps us understand where we are now. It affords us the opportunity to notice everything, and connect with the now, ourselves, and others. It was a real aha moment for me. Sometimes I feel like I need to remind people of how tough things are. Other times I think I shouldn’t feel joyful when things are so uncertain and potentially dangerous. But, as I take a breath and try to see things in my here and now, with kindness and curiosity, I notice that those thoughts and feelings are only part of my now. There is, even amidst the difficulties, many points of light, hope, peace, joy. In mindfulness, I must see and explore everything, give everything voice, light, time, thought — and even in my darkest moments that includes joy, goodness, and hope.

This photo reminds me of some of the reasons I have for joy, hope, peace, gratitude.

There are so many people choosing to help, to love, to pray, to do what is right – in my life and in the world. There are many reasons to be grateful. I am using my breath, my body, and my mind to connect to those truths, and to allow them to inform my feelings and action. I texted a friend that my to do list today includes — see the good, the positive, the blessings, the strength, the safety, and the helpers; speak of them in some way (to myself and others); and let it inform and bless me, and the world.

No matter what, this is my mantra. It is me encouraging mindfulness in myself.

I hope to see the world, and the situations I am in, in the fullness of truth. I know, for myself, it is the only way I will have the strength, courage, and ability to be, and to do, what is best.

Embrace the Bitter, Lean into the Sweet

This year we ended our time together in Kindergarten without being in each other’s physical presence. That was hard. During the preparation for our end of year celebrations, and during the many goodbyes, I had to deepen my breath, and hold onto their bright eyes in our zoom calls.

True to form, it was a bittersweet moment. My love and respect for them always intensifies the bitter. But this year, their thoughts spoken during our celebration intensified the sweetness, and soothed my aching heart.

Yup the bitter remains, but the depth of bitterness only reflects the depth of our love and the sweetness we shared. We are a community. We love one another. We have shared so very much. To honor all that, I’m choosing to embrace the bitter, and lean into the sweet.

It was wonderful to see each Kindergarten face, and hear their shouts of greeting on our end of year zoom call. But, my favorite part, was listening to them share about Kindergarten — this was a new addition to our end of year celebration.

Each girl shared answers to one, or all, of these questions. What did she LOVE about Kindergarten? How did she surprise herself? What is she most proud of from Kindergarten?

As each girl’s face popped onto the screen, I watched them intently from afar. I leaned into the screen as they spoke. And, I celebrated!

I want to share our celebration with you. Here are just a few of the things that were shared and celebrated.

  • My favorite part of Kindergarten was dance. I thought I couldn’t do dance moves, but I did it!
  • My favorite parts of kindergarten was doing math sentences, publishing my writing, coloring, and art.
  • I enjoyed “play to learn” because it was mostly playing with my kindergarten friends. 
  • I didn’t think I would be able to learn how to count coins, but I tried really hard and I did it!
  • I thought Spanish must be hard as it is a foreign language. Turns out it is not so hard, and now I know I can do it!
  • I never thought I could make the art pieces that Ms. James made, but she taught us how to make them, and I did it!
  • At the beginning of the year, I could only go 1 bar on the monkey bars, but now I can go across the whole monkey bars.
  • I am most proud of being able to present in front of a crowd of people. I do not get nervous anymore!
  • I love Science, we did lots of activities, we put the white thing into the cola, then it exploded. And we had safety goggles. 
  • I didn’t think I could, but I learned how to tie my shoes. 
  • I didn’t think I’d be able to do 3D shapes in Math class. It’s hard to remember names of 3D shapes but I did it.
  • I am most proud of learning to read. 
  • What I LOVED about Kindergarten was being together! Working hard, playing fair and being AWESOME together!”
  • I am most proud of all the math I learned. 
  • I did not think I could draw, but I can,  and l love art
  • I loved that all my friends were in my class. I loved that I was still able to see my friends on zoom.
  • I surprised myself by making new friends and writing poetry.  
  • I’m proud that I made it through the whole year of kindergarten!
  • This year in Kindergarten I am so proud that… I NEVER GAVE UP!

Sharing them here allows me to listen once more to their words. My celebration is even deeper the second time around. I hear their joy, pride, and confidence. I am buoyed by the many ways they have grown, overcome, learned, and discovered — and any part I played in that.

Spring 2020 remote learning/teaching was different, difficult, time consuming, and energy draining. But it was also profoundly wonderful, beautiful, creative, and filled with reasons to celebrate. It was filled with learning, thinking, wondering, joy, discovery, growth, and beautiful relationships.

And, that is very, very good.

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. 

 

How Fascinating!

Have you ever heard of Benjamin Zander? No? Until about a week ago, neither had I.

I’m happy to finally be in the know. I enjoy his quirky positivity and joie de vivre, and his commitment to possibility.  I’ve been exploring the many resources on his website and the net, and am interested to notice how many of his thoughts and actions are similar to mine.

He has a saying — “How fascinating!” — which is only fully expressed by proclaiming it with raised arms, and a gleefully smiling face. Take a look at a clip from his Poptech 2018 presentation.

“Now, don’t make a face. (Raising his arms …) How fascinating!”

That cracks me up each time I watch it — and I’ve watched it quite a few times!

Benjamin suggests the movement counteracts the tendency to contract our body when we make a mistake. I think — and bet he would agree — that it also counteracts our tendency to contract our brains. “How fascinating!” signals to our brain that something interesting — something positive rather than negative — is occurring. It encourages us to view the moment, and the mistake, as an opportunity to explore and examine, rather than a problem to fret over, hide, and regret.

I fence. I’m taking lessons from my brother (a rather brainy, fantabulous coach). Lots of  times our lessons are filled with ambiguity. Hence, being frustrated and making a mistake are quite probable. I know mistakes aren’t a big deal. But boy, do I hate making them!

I’ve been trying to reprogram myself and change my reactions when I make a mistake. My goal is to be a bit more alright with my mistakes, and most importantly, to learn from them. I’ve been doing ok, but it’s still a struggle.

When I heard, and saw, Benjamin’s “How fascinating!” I decided to give it a go in my next lesson — mostly, I think, I found it so amusing. Turns out, that exact fact — that it makes me laugh — may be a large part of the effectiveness of “How fascinating!”

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson — University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Professor, and Director of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab — has researched and written a lot about positive emotions and how they affect us.

In a 2004 article, she states that “positive emotions broaden peoples’ momentary thought–action repertoires, widening the array of the thoughts and actions that come to mind.” And in a 2011 article published by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, she credits positive emotions with increased creativity,  idea generation, and resilience.

That’s how I experience “How fascinating!” It makes me chuckle, and injects a moment of positive emotion into an otherwise frustration-inducing moment. It suggests there is something valuable in my mistake. It helps me change my frame of mind from judgement to curiosity.  “This is fascinating. It’s not an indication that I suck! My mistake — the process — is fascinating! Find out how/why.” I’ve noticed when I use it, I’m more able to think, consider new ideas, see nuances in the process, problem solve, and try again.

My students are a lot like me as a fencer. They really want to do well. Often times they are pretty driven. Mistakes are rarely fascinating. Usually they see mistakes as a reason for negative self judgement or negative emotions, rather than opportunities for positivity and learning.

They need “How fascinating!” So, how do I incorporate it into my classroom culture? How might I increase positive emotions, and curiosity in my student’s learning, and as a response to mistakes ? 

I think it will need to be a multi-pronged approach:

  • My language and behavior has to suggest and affirm the fascination and possibility inherent in our mistakes.
  • My response to mistakes must include curiosity, wonder, and conversation. And, I must share my own “How fascinating!” moments — including how I felt, what I did, what I learned, and how I changed.
  • Exploration of our mistakes must become the norm.
  • Including “How fascinating!” in a lesson, read aloud, activity might help us begin to embrace it in the classroom.
  • A “How fascinating!” partnership with parents will be key.  Sharing research that backs it up might help.

It’s funny, I know in some ways it’s a mindset, and “How fascinating!” isn’t completely necessary. And yet, in another way I think there is something very necessary about it. I can remember moments when “How fascinating!” would have really helped my learners by inducing laugher, breath, enhanced posture, and a bit more conversation.

The silliness of “How fascinating!” may really grab my young students. While I want them to fully embrace and use it, I think I must also teach them prudence. Discussing when might or might not be the best time to use it will be helpful. Also, exploring ways to modify it so as to be able to always use it are key.

We shall see. “How fascinating!” is in my toolbox, and will definitely be pulled out this coming school year.

Looking forward to it!

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Making and Repetition

I love being inspired late at night. There is something magical about losing oneself in the creative, artistic process, without regard for time or the need to sleep.

In Paint, Play, Explore, Rae Missigman talks about mark making (she calls them art marks), repetition, and embracing whomever one is as an artist. Her thoughts jumpstarted my creative thinking and process last night. I scrambled out of bed and began a renewed exploration and experimentation of roses and leaves.

It was fun — and freeing — to work with familiar, loved shapes. I moved from color pencils to acrylic paint as I created a plethora of roses and leaves.

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I considered painting the background black but worried the intense contrast might wreck the piece. Instead I chose a rich blue color. I may experiment with black another day as I do love black and white, but for now I’m pleased with the blue.

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I appreciated the “rustic” look I achieved by painting with a bit of abandon. But, the mark making artist in me was unsettled and less than satisfied.

Clearly, the piece was unfinished. So I continued. I added lines, dots, and embellishments. My inner artist was happy with the additions. And, as I embraced my own unique marks, repetitions, and style, my inner critic was quieted.

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Today I continued my mark making and repetition.

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Nice, right? I really enjoy the mark making and repetition. It’s fun, and clearly the repetitions and art marks make the piece! I love the fullness and pop of the roses and leaves in the center. And, the white outlined roses in the sea of blue add a surprising layer of depth.

I think perhaps I tweaked Rae’s idea of mark making and repetition. I’m not sure, I’ll have to keep reading her book to find out. But, in the meantime, I’m super happy with my interpretation of her idea, and the space and possibility this has opened in me.

Thanks, Rae!

Fatigue, Eyeballs, and Flowers

I was home sick yesterday. It’s Saturday today, and I’m still home sick. Actually, it’s not so much sickness, as remarkably strong fatigue. Ever since my diagnosis and treatment, I have some days that I can do nothing other than sleep, or lie in a heap on the couch with a delicious cup of green tea before going back to bed to sleep! The fatigue is crazy-powerful. It makes me feel ill in many different ways. It’s annoying, but what can I do? Press on with relentless positivity, some kvetching, and of course some creativity!

Today’s a bit better, but yesterday even creative thinking, and artistic work, had me climbing back into bed. But as someone said “Earth without art is just eh. Go.make.art!” Or as I say, “Life without creativity and art is missing some serious joy!” So fatigue or not, art and creativity here I come!

I’m trying to figure out a design for a bathroom cabinet. I know it will contain the word LOVE in arts and crafts style lettering, as well as some as yet unknown number of arts and crafts style flowers. I thought about the project for a few days, and then began sketching the flowers. I’ve done them before but these will be mirror images of the ones I’ve done in the past. Sounds simple right? Yeah, not so much.

Yesterday I grabbed my grid paper and began sketching a plethora of flowers. Some of them looked a lot more like eyeballs than flowers! Eyeballs! That just won’t do! It cracks me up and frustrates me all at the same time. So I sketch on, immersed in my creative and artistic process.

  • Math — the shapes, the number of grid lines I’m using to create each flower, where the various shapes lie in relationship to the middle of the whole flower.
  • Freedom to make the shapes flow and a bit askew instead of mathematically perfect.
  • Deep observing — of the flower, the shapes, the sweep of the lines, the areas that are outside my original space.
  • The beauty of my pencil — how it feels in my hand, and how wonderfully it skims across the paper leaving my mark with great ease.
  • The process itself — think, try, think some more, look at it a lot, go away, come back, look at it again, rearrange, repeat.
  • And, finally there is me, my breath, my brain, my heart, and the joy and contentment I feel as I create, learn, make mistakes, try again, and eventually succeed.

This is my work from yesterday. Overcome at one point with how much they all really did look like eyeballs I pulled out my watercolors and brush, hopeful the color would help me see flowers. If nothing else I figured the watercolor would bring me joy.

Thankfully the watercolor worked wonders. The eyeballs transformed into  proper-looking flowers, and I transformed into a little less frustrated, little more happy and content me.20181005_140102-01

I want to share this process more and more with my students — in all areas of the curriculum. I want them to experience all I just experienced.

I’m sure I’ve said this before, and each time I have this revelation anew, I try to be mindful of my teaching practice and classroom management. Do I gift my students with time to process, think, create, observe, learn, fail, try again, rethink, and change their minds? Am I transparent sharing my own process with them? Do they know how many times my flowers look like eyeballs?

I try, that’s for sure. But, there is something really intrinsic to my process, that I am not convinced I provide for my students. Is it time to think? Time to be with one problem or project? Time to observe and learn about things on their own?

I don’t know. But, for sure there is something about being in the moment, something about the immersion, the peace, the struggle, and the whole process that I must continue to reflect upon, and bring to my students.

The Joy and Power of Making

The girls and I worked on making banners this past week. We each worked on our own creation, sharing space, materials, tools, and energy.

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It was a choice based activity — join me for the project if you like, don’t join me if something else brings you more joy. The choices continued as we worked on the project.

  • What color shall I use?
  • Do I want one hole or two in each triangle? Will they be right-side-up or up-side-down?
  • Which yarn will I use?
  • Do I want to use washi tape? What color? How much? Where?
  • Will I decorate them? Add words? Images? What will I use for that?
  • How many triangular shapes do I need for my banner?

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A friend gave me three plastic mason jars of washi tape for my birthday. She hoped my girls and I would create something beautiful together. I shared the tape and information with my girls. I told them my friend was curious and excited to see our process and final product. They seemed energized by the information and my sharing of my gift with them.

The makerspace was blazing with creativity, bravery (trying all sorts of things), negotiation (Can I borrow your scissors? Can someone start this washi tape for me? I want that tape too, can we share?), imagination, collaboration, (I can do that! Do you want me to help you?), thinking, sharing of ideas, physical work, laughter, and joy!

At one point, one of the girls brought me her tray and banner.

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“Nice. Did you just want to show it to me?” I asked.

“Would you string it for me?” she asked.

“I can.” I replied. “What are you going to do?”

 

“I’m going to invent another project! Can I do that? Invent another project!”

Invent another project?! How fantabulous is that?!?!!! I made a split second decision to lend her my hands to string her banner, so that she could use her hands to do something more important.

I responded with a big smile, and a good deal of enthusiasm. “ABSOLUTELY!”

She responded with a small smile. Her eyes locked with mine for just a second. Then she moved off to begin her invention.

I love that the gift of washi tape to me, and then to my girls, combined with freedom and joy produced such beauty! Beautiful banners. Awesome experiences. Desire and empowerment to invent new projects!

YAY!