Monday, July 17, 2017


Here it is --a quiet Monday, and I'm not at work. 

In case you are wondering, I work in the public schools and it is summer vacation. For those of you reading who may not be aware what educators actually do, you may be thinking, "Lazy. Why don't you get a REAL job? And why do you get paid so much when you don't have to work summers like the rest of us?" 

I earn every single moment of my summers (and incidentally, I only get paid for 9 months worth of work, thank you very much --they just spread it out over 12 months for me). During the school year, I usually work six days a week. It is not unheard of to spend 12 or more hours a day at work during the work week. During that time, I am responsible for all kinds of things I won't describe here, but I've talked about elsewhere on this blog. 

My paid work is physically exhausting. It is cognitively and emotionally challenging. I do get some wonderful non-monetary rewards for my efforts, but it's still labor.

In addition to that work, I am also trying to be a generally artsy-fartsy type (because I enjoy it, I have found), a halfway-decent person, and not the worst mother in the world. All of these require time and effort. 

I recently came across the book The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman. I was trapped on a plane for several hours. It was there, I was there thing led to another. You know how it is. I didn't get a chance to finish it, but I did put a good dent in it, getting halfway through. It was enlightening, or at least made me think a little. I have plans to finish it, although according to the book, plans can be counterproductive. I want to finish it --we'll see how it goes.

There is something in my head that compels me to make things. Moments when I could be quiet, my head swells up with plans and ideas. Sometimes my fingers get itchy to move, sometimes it's my whole body. I give myself work to do. As The Antidote discussed, when we do this, it's at the cost of quiet and, potentially, peace of mind.

Thinking about it, though, there is nothing wrong with working hard, as long as it is done purposefully and in balance with being quiet and receptive to other things. The longer I live, the more I think I may have a purpose (although what it is, I have no idea). I have a direction I'd like to head. Whether I make it to whatever that thing is off in the distance is not up to me, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to move my feet towards over there. I'll just make sure to remember to breathe and take breaks to look around in the process.

So work. 

On a day I am not at work, I am at work. I have given myself work to do. Today, however, for the first time in a long time when not on vacation, I am also going to make time to give myself nothing to do.

Here's hoping you give yourself time for both, too. I have a feeling it'll be a good thing.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

lessons from recent travels

Flight over Baffin Island, Canada
The stones of Castlerigg

I am a very fortunate person --before writing anything else, I should say that. That is not meant in a prideful way. That is meant in a way that I have had an opportunity recently that is special, and I recognize it as such.

I went on vacation.

Not everyone has the opportunity to travel for vacation. It is not something I can make a habit of doing, but I don't regret the time or expense.

The places: Rosslyn Chapel, Alnwick Castle, the Isle of Iona, St. Conan's Kirk, Borrowdale, Arthur's Seat, ...

The people: family, friends, strangers, an owl named Merlin (owls are people, too), ...

The events: visiting a Poison Garden; driving one-lane roads and laughing about flamboyant party turkeys; getting trapped by cows in Northumberland on the way to Hadrian's Wall; living in a converted pub that must have been haunted by someone named Jonathan (it's the only possible explanation as to how we could have lost Scrabble so badly); ...   

I could describe it all, but I wouldn't be able to capture those little moments and surprises in a concise way. I will be using some of it in writing for months to come (oh, so many ideas!) by trying to recall the sensations and looking up the details I can't remember. At the moment, though, I am a bit weepy because I miss it. Words are hard to come by, so pictures ...

Edinburgh through the window

Along the road through Honister Pass

Sunshine in the Highlands

Contemplating philosophy and shiny toes
Everything old is new again
The waters off Fionnphort, Isle of Mull

As it says along the A83, Rest And Be Thankful. I have and I am.  

Thursday, June 22, 2017

on the way to the pie palace

Dr. Hashigawa said her numbers were up. She wasn’t really sure what that meant, except that it was something to do with the cancer. The doctor hadn’t been vague; she couldn’t understand the letters and numbers and precise confusion of it all. He made the experience almost pleasant, though, with his soft eyes and gentle voice.

“ you need to make an appointment with the hospital. They’ll run the scan like last time ...”

Finally, some words that made sense. Make an appointment. Hospital. Scan. Last time.

The rest of the appointment floated by. She assured the doctor she was fine --at least, she thought she had. Sounds had been molded, folded, into something resembling sentences, and he had nodded. The white paper made a crinkling sound on the examination table. Why was the paper necessary? Dr. Hashigawa hadn’t examined her; he had only told her that the cancer might be spreading. There was no need for the paper. Cancer wasn’t contagious.

Cold air hit her nostrils --assaulted them --as she left the building. The sky didn’t have the common decency to allow sunlight through the clouds. If the day had been less grey, maybe the sun could have fought off the cold, or maybe the doctor could have made a mistake. But the day was grey, and her nostrils ached.

“That’s the way it is,” she thought, shrugging.

She made her way to the car, and the car made its way along the road. Time was doing strange things, moving without moving; minutes had passed, but she hadn’t felt them. Somehow, she ended up at the Pie Palace without hitting any cars or pedestrians. The Pie Palace. She hadn’t been here in years.

The restaurant looked like she felt, all dirty bricks and chipped green paint on the ironwork and faded pictures in the window promising pie with ice cream. She opened her car door anyway.

She had packed on a few pounds since she was last here. When was it? Fifteen years ago? Another lifetime when her midriff had been less voluminous and anything had been possible. Now, she was going to have to settle for hoping she could wedge herself into a booth and getting a slice of Marionberry à la mode. If she was going to die alone in the near future, she felt like she had to. She wasn’t particularly hungry, but it seemed like something she should want --a last meal.

Again, time passed without passing, and she found herself seated at a table on a squeaky vinyl bench. A young woman with dark hair came to hand her a menu.

“I’d like a slice of Marionberry à la mode.” She didn’t feel like talking. She didn’t need a menu.

The young woman smiled and tried to hand her the menu anyway. “We’re out of Marionberry. Can I get you something else?”

And she felt herself weep as the young woman frantically handed her napkins from the silver dispenser.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

let's talk ...

It is the last day of school for the year, and I have spent hours on paperwork that no one will likely ever look at. That's okay --it's the nature of the beast. I feel no sense of accomplishment in having completed it, though. That time could have been better spent, which I find a bit frustrating.
To put that busy work out of my mind, I am going to think back to something that I felt very proud to be a part of. A colleague of mine is the primary person behind it, and I feel very fortunate to work with people like her. I worked with her and some other colleagues on developing a very simple means for nonverbal people to communicate. From there, we used these communication books with children who have difficulty communicating with others using language, and I shared how to make them with parents and the wider community online. I've included that information below. And here is the part that I think back to tonight ...
In all, so far, I know of at least four people, including two adults I don't work with directly, who were able to communicate using language after being introduced to the communication books. In the case of the two adults, they were able to use it without being taught how to use it. This makes me incredibly happy and sad at the same time: happy, because they finally had a means to communicate using language that they had developed on their own; and sad, because the people around them either assumed they had nothing to say or didn't have the patience to figure it out. 
If you know people like this, please feel free to use this idea. Let me know how it goes. 'Core vocabulary' are words that are frequently used; 'fringe vocabulary' are words that are thematic or may fit within a particular category that aren't used as often. Please let me know if you need the pages --they're a little tricky to download here! The directions below are for use with kids, but that doesn't mean adults can't use them.

 To make a communication book, you will need a ½ inch binder, like the one shown, and a color printer to print out the core vocabulary and fringe vocabulary sheets.

Place this core sheet on inside top left cover of ½” notebook. This example is affixed with clear packing tape.

Place the other core vocabulary sheet on inside top right cover of ½” notebook. Use tabbed plastic notebook dividers, cutting out the top portion so the core vocabulary can be seen from any tab. Attach fringe vocabulary to these dividers. These examples are affixed with clear packing tape. 

  1. Review all of the words on the board before expecting your child to know what they say. They are still learning to read, and it helps with that learning.
  2. The adult or another communication partner also uses the communication book. This will help model how they are used and how the “buttons” are paired with speech. It also helps to normalize using AAC for communication -not all communication is verbal!
  3. Have your child imitate what you are doing, or look for words on the board. The adult or communication partner might provide the voice, or you both say it together, or they might say the words themselves, depending on ability level.
  4. Not all of the words or word forms are included on here for the sake of space. That’s okay. You can add words or word endings when you are talking (e.g., for “I have the glue”, you would say that sentence and touch I +have + glue).
  5. Feel free to use or have the kids use the question words as well (e.g., “Where’s red?” could be where + red).
  6. The blank “buttons” are in case there is a word that is not included on the board (e.g., if you wanted to say “octagon”, you could touch a blank button on the shape fringe vocabulary page). Communication supports don’t always have all of the vocabulary we would like because of space, but you can still have the option of using words that aren’t on there.

Friday, June 16, 2017

war and peace

"So, I've been thinking ..."

"Not again."

"Hear me out. I've been thinking ..."

"Alright. What've you been thinking?"

"Well, in times of peace, we don't notice it --peace, I mean. We don't notice it. In times of peace, we are at war because our bodies are in one place, and our minds take us somewhere else."


"Well, you can be in a peaceful place and your mind is thinking about bills or what you said wrong or where you'd rather be and who you'd rather be with ..."

"I know I'd rather be with someone else right now."

"That's what I mean! You could be enjoying yourself. In the greater scheme of things, having a few beers with a friend, it's a pretty peaceful thing."

"Normally, but you're being weird tonight."

"If your mind and body could just settle in together, that's peace. You're at war with yourself when they don't settle in together. And it works opposite during times of war."


"During war, you want your body to go one way and your mind to go somewhere else. You don't want your mind dwelling with the body in war. To find peace, your mind has to take a walk somewhere a little less hellish."

"Sorry. Missed all that. My mind took a walk somewhere a little less hellish ..."

"You don't get it."

"Actually, I do. I'm just messing with you. When things are peaceful, hang out in it and notice what's around you. When things are warlike, let your mind go somewhere else. Did I get that right, Tolstoy?"

"Yeah. Pass me another beer, will you ...?"

Sunday, June 11, 2017

i don't know

There is an answer to every question, and sometimes, that answer is, "I don't know."

It seems like, nowadays, everyone is expected to be an expert at everything. This leads to trouble. If we feel like we can't say, "I don't know," it means we have to know. That's not a comfortable feeling.

We lash out.

We disappear with embarrassment.

We pretend we know and potentially mislead others.

We alienate other people.

I work with students who need to be explicitly taught that they are allowed to say, "I don't know". The difference in behavior is significant once they learn "I don't know" is an acceptable answer. When they think they have to know the answer to everything, they become highly agitated and use all means at their disposal to get out of the situation. Once they understand that they are not expected to know everything and can communicate when they don't, they relax. 

I think most people are similar to my students in this way.

When we can say we don't know, we can seek assistance. When we can say we don't know, we can ask questions. When we can say we don't know, we can listen to answers. 

When we can say we don't know, we can learn.

I don't know everything, but I do know that.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

not an award winner

Way back in December 2016, which seems like a million years ago now, I won an award for writing. It was the first one I had ever won. It was a strange feeling to win --so odd, in fact, I wrote a blog post about it, as one does when one is prone to process life through written words. Here's that blog post: award winner?

Because I am a compulsive teacher as well as a compulsive writer, I feel the need to write that post's companion. This one is about a theme as familiar as old clothing, yet it feels as comfortable as I hear a hairshirt is supposed to be. 

I entered a contest some months back. I worked as hard as I could on the story. I sent it in. The winners' names were revealed and ...nothing. Not a winner, not a finalist, not a runner up. The story (my story) was "released". Not that kind of "released". The other kind --the kind more closely associated with discontinuing employment.

It is a disappointment. No one writes a story to be told "no, thank you". No one edits to be ignored. There is always that hope in there that something you needed to say connected with an audience. There are times, though, when the answer is crickets and tumbleweed.

Here is where I kick into writer self-help mode. This is why I'm writing this post. I'm not into humiliating myself. It's because I know that I am not the only person who goes through this, and maybe I do something that would be helpful for you to try unless everything you write is accepted for publication and is universally lauded (which, frankly, smacks of delusion).

What I am doing:
1. Reviewing the old blog post. I am fortunate to have something to look back on where I suspect an objective third-party liked something I wrote. I say "I suspect [they] liked" it because of the prize. Which brings me to number two ...

2. Remembering that people read it and enjoyed it. There is always the suspicion in there that the people reading it were being nice, but I was fortunate in that the people gave very specific feedback and that is what told me it might not all be kindness to my poor writer's ego. (An aside: if you read for a friend, please be honest --not brutal, mind, but say what you liked and what didn't work for you.)

3. Remembering that reading is a subjective experience. What I like may not be for you, or maybe it is. It is all dependent on individual tastes. In this case, my taste was not the same as the judges' taste. I looked to see what won. That helped me understand further what their taste was and to see what worked for them, and to understand it was the wrong piece for that audience.

4. Thinking about the details of new projects. It is hard to think about disappointment when you're thinking about what to do with a particular scene or a particular character. Or you can focus on what's going on around you. Basically, think about something else. No one can think about two things at once.

and, my favorite,

5. Sillying or listening to music. Both of these things help me feel better. Laughing about nothing is enjoyable. Music is that thing without words that makes the world take on a brighter aspect.

What do you do that helps you handle writer (or other) disappointment?