Category Archives: grappling with the past

stress fracture

This is looooong, but I think it’s what I have been building up to. It eventually turns to topics of forgiveness and self-worth. Two days later, I am still holding the line.

Lemme start by saying I do not, to my knowledge, have a stress fracture. It’s just a phrase that is attracting my curiosity today. Like breaking point. Buckling under pressure.

I was thinking about earthquakes and volcanos and how we keep our ears  to the ground, monitoring the shifts and spasms. How building codes in vulnerable areas act as bulwarks. (I  just looked up bulwark to check my usage… it lives in my brain as “something that defends, maybe related to water”. I was on point though I pictured it as something on shore but it’s the side of a ship. Either way, def a word that sounds like it means!)

Thinking about that moment when everything changes. The limits of prediction. The hurricane cuts its own line.

Thinking about hindsight (a wonderful concept and I was going to say wonderful word but now that I think about it, I imagine it’s related to behind and now I am thinking about craning my head to look at my butt and now I’m picturing butts with eyes so just no. Some digressions should not be followed.)

Thinking about butt eyes and how we don’t know the line between before and after until there’s been a lot of after. How much after? Like when I quit smoking (see what I did there? butts?)  I had tried to quit before. I could not know that 11/11/2001 would be the sticking day. I’m not sure when I knew the line would hold. I do know that if I had a cigarette today, there’s a high chance I’d slide back to it. Just one. Just one more.

So maybe I am thinking about befores and afters. With tragedies it’s horrifically clear. May 24, 2022. Uvalde, TX will never be the same.

I’m thinking about Big T trauma and little t trauma. The bones we break when falling out of a swing and the ones we didn’t know were at the breaking point until after the fact. Stress fractures. How the slightest jostle can sever whatever tenuous bonds were still holding the pieces together.

I’m thinking about the limits of analogies and wondering why I take refuge in them instead of speaking plainly.

Our brain follows different rules than bones. Our thoughts are not hurricanes even though our thoughts spin and shred up and down the Saffir-Simpson scale.

I am trying to resist digressing into a blah blah about how trite and ridiculous this all is. I want to minimize. This has all been lived and said before. Nothing new here. But I promised not to apologize for taking up a wee bit of online space for writing. It somehow helps me find my footing.

OK let’s say the brain is a house. Some houses are sturdy enough to hold up in almost any setting. Going back to bulwarks. Some are more site specific. And maybe some are just one busted pipe after another and you can’t even catch your breath long enough to decide if you need to rebuild somewhere else.

I want today to be a breaking point. To be a before and after. What I’m looking for is not as clear as stopping smoking and it’s sure as hell more difficult. I cannot simply quit being me. Wherever we go, there we are.

But I can’t keep on as things are. No, that’s a lie. I can keep on, as folks do. Which is why I am thinking about stress fractures.

Maybe in a year, or five or twenty I will be able to say, yes–something shifted on May 31, 2022. Because I do know what needs to change. I need to forgive myself for real and perceived failures so I can move forward. I need to stop looking for evidence everyday to prove that I continue to fail. And–the hardest of all patterns to break–I need to uncouple my sense of worth from my perceptions of competence. Just thinking about doing this makes me queasy, shortens my breath, releases the tears.

Am I able to say I have done the best I could, given the knowledge I had and my personal capacity? I am supposed to say yes. That’s what the professionals say. We cannot hate ourselves into change.

I do not know why I cling to self-recrimination.* It’s almost a form of grandiosity. Why would I hold myself to different standards than others? Knowing that we are fallible is Human Studies 101.

I might not be ready to say I’ve tried my best. Wasting hours playing Freecell (and now every iteration of Wordle I can find) is *not* trying my best. The list of all the things I could have done, should have done, wished I had done is long.

Maybe I can start by acknowledging that I have always approached each day with good intentions, with the desire to have a positive or at least not negative impact on those around and beyond me. I can even go farther out on the limb by recognizing that I do have a strong work ethic, even though it doesn’t always fire on demand. But I guess that’s a sneaky way of reconnecting worth and competence.

So, really, what I need to do is forgive myself and allow for the possibility that I have worth, just as I am, right now. I don’t know if I can do it. Maybe today won’t be the day it sticks. But claiming and voicing it as a goal, for real this time, is actually a big step.

*Re: where the core beliefs and self-recrimination come from. . . I grew up in a loving, supportive, awesome home with great parents who never made me feel like I was defined by my performance, used withering words or anything like that. I don’t think I had an inordinate amount of terrible experiences with peers, teachers, etc. Sure, definitely some ouch moments, but nothing horrible enough to account for my core beliefs. Maybe I just started off with some vulnerabilities that predisposed me to cognitive distortions and disproportionate reactions to the normal slings and arrows of being a human which then snowballed. And then I unintentionally made choices that deepened the rut.

two doors

This post describes a lockdown drill and discusses school shootings and violence in general. It’s also not complete.

A classroom with a red/green patterned couch, two blues, bookshelves with plants on top, a brown door
Door number 2

I’m just going to get right to it. One of the scariest moments of my teaching career was during a lock down drill.

I began my teaching career before Sandy Hook.* Some folks locked their classroom doors when they and their kids were gone for lunch but I don’t remember having keys to my room. I was probably offered and said no out of fear of losing them.

When I returned to the classroom after a ten year detour, the key was mandatory.

My 7th grade classroom had two doors. At the beginning of the year, I decided which would be the main entrance based on transition patterns between classes. But the lock didn’t work very well and I had to keep asking to get it fixed. The delay was not due to reckless indifference on the part of leadership. They were working 24/7 in an under-resourced, high-needs school. The other door also locked, but I didn’t pay as much attention to it.

During my first lockdown drill, my students knew what to do, where to hide. I checked that my door was secure. The main door. Pssst! Students were looking at me, nodding at the other door. I ran over to check it. Unlocked. I turned the lock. Within minutes, our security guard was banging on the doors and rattling the knobs. We “passed the test.”

I still can’t quite shake the feeling that I had put my students at risk. My logic brain reminds that the whole point of drills is to learn, to bake in the protocols. And even the tightest, most perfectly enacted plans can fail. My mom brain still echoes “what if?” Families entrust us with their children. What if I had been the weak link? I can’t even complete that thought.

When I weighed the reasons for leaving, I included my concern that I would not be able to protect my students. My spatial skills are terrible. I can get disoriented within two blocks from my home.

No matter how many times I studied the fire drill evacuation plans and practiced taking the correct stairs, I was hesitant about which direction to turn during every fire drill. I did not trust my ability to direct the movement of children in a crisis.

I think of all the teachers who likely share similar fears but still courageously show up for our kids in so many ways. It’s mind-boggling.

I am not quite sure where I am going with this. Maybe just feeling some big feelings about what we ask our kids and teachers to do.

*I just realized it was after Columbine. I wonder if small elementary schools remained more relaxed than high schools. Or maybe I am imagining simpler times,

87% glum

Gonna give myself permission to be brief because I just spent time editing what I wrote yesterday and I can barely keep my eyes open. If I was going to spend time properly writing, I would talk about the dreaded 87% mark,   ie where I tend to get stuck.

I’ve been wanting to share this project with more folks but I won’t do it until I have alt text for photos, have fixed the categories, etc. Stuff I should have been doing with each post from the beginning.

added 4/25

It’s related to perfectionism, paralysis, hyperfocus, scope creep, haste, transitions, insecurity… the familiar stew that fuels my work? the creaseworn map that directs my movements throughout a day?

When I take on a project, I inevitably make it more complicated than it needs to be, especially given real or created barriers to execution. I start to falter or fall behind. Guilt and overwhelm take over, sharpening an edge of doubt?  slowing mometum like ankle weights?

Then the snowballing follows but I guess it’s the opposite of snowballing which evokes movement and force. Maybe more like a dam  that thickens  as distractions are less able to flow through. Ugh these metaphors.

I am remembering making a photo album for a dear  friend’s  wedding. Not ready by the big day. Technically have a year, right? And this way I could include pics from the wedding. First anniversary passed. Embarrassment took over. Then it was time for a baby shower and a reunion. I buckled in, probably stayed up all night before the flight. Had to be worthy of the delay. But there were gaps. I had wanted to do more. A gift delivered with apologies.

Of course it was well received with befuddlement about how heavily it had weighed on my consciousness.

I have so many examples of that creative process.

willpower and/or effort

scrap of paper that says write, with underlining

4/18 edit: this took a different turn than I was expecting. I had intended to simply express some excitement about keeping up with the writing streak. Going through past posts to add image text helps me see that I’ve actually written a fair bit. On a day to day basis, I am often frustrated by the product so it has been a great exercise in being OK with muck. I am surprised that I haven’t skipped a day. It helps that word press gives a little congrats for keeping a streak going.

Just had one of those duh epiphanies about the difference between stopping and starting a habit. The first requires willpower. The latter, willpower *and* effort.

This is a gross simplification. Not everything is within our locus of control. And both can require a lot of scaffolding, an exoskeleton of other behavioral logistical and emotional supports.

But it’s relevant to my habits. Some things I want  to stop or decrease, others start or increase.

Booze. I’ve got a relationship with it. If alcohol was not unhealthy in so many compounding ways, I would savor a bottle of red wine every night.  Last summer, I made a commitment to take a break from drinking until the end of the year. Mission accomplished.

Not drinking required willpower. I don’t like to admit that it was hard and tonight’s not the night to write about that. But abstaining from alcohol did not technically require me to *do* anything. 

Going on a run, building my business, cleaning the house, making and sticking with a plan… these require a push. Once I get going I’m fine. Breaking free from a standstill is the issue. I have to force my body to take action.

Hmmmm. My little lightbulb moment is dimming.  It’s not that stopping a behavior requires less effort than starting one.  It certainly isn’t always easier. And when we have to take  action to facilitate  resistance to the  undesirable behavior,  it gets fuzzy fast.

Maybe I’m splitting hairs and just trying to understand why it’s so hard for me to take action. Not drinking for five months was a challenge. Lacing up running shoes a few times a week should not be.

Ugh. I think I do know one reason stopping is in some ways easier  than starting. It’s a clearly defined success. I really wanted to get a donut this morning but marched past Dunkin. Success. When I put on the tea kettle instead of popping a cork? Gold star! Quitting smoking (11/11/2001) was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in terms of willpower, resolve, impulse control. Whatever it’s called, it stayed in the daily win column for a long time.

Blargh I need to pick this thread up again another day. In summary, change is hard. Thousands of books and talk show hosts have already covered this territory. I just have to keep plugging away to find something that works for me.

Ms. Harper’s Dunes

Went on a very long walk in the Indiana Dunes. This place always bring me back to high school biology. Hopeful, futureful days.

Rapid ecological progression.  From forest to sand in a short span of space. 0 to 60 vps (vegetation per step).

sand dune with trees sloping to a beach with gentle waves.
The Indiana Dunes and Lake Michigan

If I could have a do-over,  biologist would be at the top of the career list. But I’m not sure I am organized and disciplined enough to be a scientist. (I’m not sure why I think those are key requirements.)

For my teaching degree, I chose elementary education over high school because I wanted to keep my fingers in all subjects. Everything is connected. Maybe too connected. My popcorn brain compelled some kids and confounded others. 

My guiding light was Ms. Harper, my freshman and then AP Bio teacher. She kept the life in biology. Organized loads of experiments, brought us into the minds of scientists, gave us the big picture which made it easier to fill in and remember the details. Her assignments helped me break through as a writer. I knew about the power of content area writing long before my M.Ed.

And she brought us to the Dunes, adding texture and wonder to what had simply been the big beach just outside of Chicago we visited once a year. Those trips had been about sandbars, sunburns and corn dogs. Eyes on the water, not the ecological marvel behind us.

photo of informational of a poster that provides an overview of ecological progression
From a poster at the Dunes Visitor Center. Here’s a National Park Service Video:

I hope all kids have a few Ms. Harpers. School can be a miserable slog, more so for some types of brains and personalities than others. I didn’t know know about neurodiversity. Just thought I was a lazy kid not living up to her potential while at the same time being quick to challenge teachers. (I owe some apologies though PITA kids are part of the job description.).

Ms. Harper and a few other teachers somehow made me feel whole as a student, like I belonged with the “smart” kids even though I could never get my work done on time and my writing was an overambitious mess. They were nimble, patient, and rewarded curiosity.

water with a thin layer of ice with  faint heart pattern in front of a bank with brown grass and bare trees
see the heart?

I tried to emulate those qualities as a teacher but always felt like I came up short. Ugh the teaching part of my professional life is tender territory. I am tempted to write about why I was no good. That I knew content more than I knew kids.  Sucked at making cute bulliten boards.  Struggled to turn my daily attendance in on time

But when I force myself to take a break from the “wah wah wah I failed” song, I remember teaching moments that would have made Ms. Harper (and Ms. Shelton, Ms. Tarta, Mr. Viktora…) proud.

Well, this is not at all the direction I thought I would go. Taking a hike in the Dunes gets the brain moving I guess. I know I’ll keep returning to my lives as a student and a teacher as I move towards healing by 50. Also, go Kenwood Broncos.

a tree stump almost in the shape of a heart surrounded by dead leaves.