Who’s Going to Win?

May 11, 2020

Sometimes I wrestle
With which side of me will win
My full attention

Is it the cynic,
Fatigued with unrequited
Effort, time and heart?

Or the optimist,
Ever on the lookout for
Simple signs of joy:

Letters from students:
The real live ones, right from the
Real live true mailbox;

A dog, so loyal
She insists on herding me
To my couch corner

So she can then claim
Her rightful spot as heir to
The spot by my feet;

My colleagues, daily
Reminding me just how much
Deep respect and full

Admiration go
When it comes to seeing what
Is possible in life;

Time to spend reading
That one favorite book from when
You were just a kid,

The one that you read
Hundreds upon hundreds of
Times while growing up;

And then I realize
That if I pay attention
There is no contest.

Tug-of-War

April 30, 2020

Right now, I’m wrestling.

I’ve gotten such a good thing going with posting online, with writing every day, with cultivating a writing community around me.

It’s made me a better writer. It’s made me more confident. It’s allowed me to shed the yoke of perfectionism that keeps me from putting my work out into the world. It’s allowed me to experience how tough it is to display the sheer courage my young writers demonstrate each and every day, with more grace than I could ever muster.

So for those of you who are regular readers, THANK YOU. You and your work provide me with the inspiration and the motivation to keep putting my own work out into the world.

And yet.

This THING. This contraption that I keep staring and typing into.

My profession right now chains me to this THING.

I spend eight to ten hours a day, sometimes more, weekdays and weekends, in front of this THING.

I go to sleep and wake up with the imprint of a laptop screen in my mind.

And I am not sure how or why I continue to spend more time with this THING than is absolutely necessary.

I’m not sure what this means for my writing right now. Maybe it means that I write by hand for a while, and catch up with blog posts as often as I can. Maybe it means that I grin and bear it, because sometimes writing IS hard.

I’ve just got to figure a way to crawl out from under my resentment of this THING.

So…yes. It’s possible that you might not see posts every single day for a while. But that doesn’t mean I’ve bowed out. If I’ve discovered anything over the last two months, is that I need writing as an outlet.

Because I’m not going anywhere.

Thanks, as always, for reading.

Send-Off

April 29, 2020

Because I do not know
how to leave well enough alone

Because the shedding of one obligation
often just means
it is time to don another

And because there will never
ever
ever
be a time
when I feel I have
done enough
when I feel I
am enough
for my students

I have begun
another venture:
offering to be pen pals
to those
who crave
human
interaction
through REAL LIVE LETTERS
in the REAL LIVE MAIL
using REAL LIVE HANDWRITING

And I ask how they are doing
and what they like for dinner
and I ask what they are doing
and how they are filling their days

but what I really mean to say is

Here.
I want you to have this thing,
this thing I made with my hands,
this thing that you hold in your hands,
this thing that took time
and effort
and care,
and I want you to know
you are worth that time
and effort
and care –

every
last
moment.

This Is Just To Say*

April 28, 2020

I have turned in
the paper
that was for
my class

and which
you were probably
wondering
when I’d finish

Congratulate me
it was my last one
so happy
and so done

*after William Carlos Williams

Yes, today I hit “send” on the final term paper of my second graduate school degree. And while I wasn’t originally planning on making it the subject of today’s Slice of Life challenge, I realized that perhaps it was okay to take a moment to celebrate the end of a really, really, REALLY long slog.

And I felt like this poem, and the structure of it, was just enough for me to capture what I’m feeling about it. I’m not jumping up and down in excitement about it, but right now I’d rather offer myself one small corner of satisfaction.

And relief.

And closure.

How is it Possible

April 26, 2020

How is it possible that I’ve gone four full days without writing something new?

At the beginning of March, I committed to myself that I would write every day. And to tell the truth, I’ve been pretty great about maintaining that commitment to myself.

So what gives?

It’s not a lack of time. Although work and life is demanding, I can readily admit that there was time I could have spent composing.

What, then, was I lacking? Discipline? Energy? Motivation? Inspiration?

I can’t put my finger on it. But here’s my best guess.

Writing is hard.

It takes courage to sit down and pull something from the ether, especially when surrounding life is full of static and noise and fear and anxiety and frustration. It is so much easier to sit poolside, dipping my toes into the water, than it is to take a breath and dive in to thoughts that might be dark or dangerous or discouraging.

I’m still trying to figure out where in life I need to give myself a pass – where I need to offer myself grace in a tumultuous time. And I’m still trying to figure out where in life I need to give myself a stern look or a talking-to.

Because while there is comfort in allowing myself space to let things go, there is also a great degree of satisfaction in DOING the WORK.

And when I discover the balance, I’ll sell it for a million bucks. You heard it here first, folks.

What’s in a Question?

April 22, 2020

Today I was walking and talking with my niece from California. I love that we can still find a way to spend time together, albeit separated by two time zones.

I’ll be honest. Whenever I speak with her, it’s a recharge of my spiritual batteries. She’s a wonderful person and I always feel better when I’m with her. I guess all my nieces and nephews are pretty amazing humans, now that I think about it.

Today she was sharing a topic of conversation she had with colleagues. What questions should we consider out-of-bounds? Which ones may we not ask?

The two of us dove down that rabbit hole together, and as is so often the case in our conversations, she got me thinking.

What is behind the questions we ask?
Curiosity?
Habit?
Anxiety?
Anger?
Fear?
Jealousy?
Compassion?
Courtesy?

Perhaps it’s possible to distinguish questions into two different categories: Those with positive intentions, and those with less-than-positive intentions.

Which also made me wonder.

How often do I ask a question out of curiosity? How often am I asking a question because I don’t actually know the answer?

The answer, I think (at least for myself) is probably less than I’d like to admit.

More likely, I’m going to ask a question:
-to help someone else articulate their thinking
-to help someone else realize their answer already lies within
-to find out what they know
-to illustrate a point

As a teacher, I often think of my style as a “Jewish Mother” style of communication. That is, whenever my students ask me a question, I answer it with a question.
“Mrs. Levin, where should I put this paper?”
“What do you see your classmates doing?”

“Mrs. Levin, how should I answer this question?”
“What makes the most sense to you?”

There’s a reason why my signature email line is a quote that I hope to someday be famous for: “Education isn’t about getting the right answer. It’s about asking the right questions.”

Still.

I should also admit that I am a HUMAN PERSON. And as such, I have to admit my intentions are not always positive. That sometimes I ask a question because I know someone DOESN’T have an answer, or because both of us already KNOW what that answer is going to be and I just want confirmation. I think we all do that from time to time.

So why DO we ask questions? The answer should be obvious – because there’s something we don’t know. But that’s not the answer. That’s not how it translates into real life.

When you ask a question, how often is it – really – that you ask that question because you don’t know the answer, and because you genuinely WANT to know the answer?

I honestly don’t know. I think I might find, on closer inspection, that these types of questions make up a minority of the questions I pose. No matter the purpose, it’s my hope that I come from a place of positive intentions more often than not.

Either way, I think it’s important to start paying better attention to my interactions with others, and that I become mindful of my intentions.

And becoming more mindful is, inevitably, one of the things I am inspired to do after speaking with my niece.

Funny the way that works.

Wouldn’t you say?

Life with Teens, Exhibit R

April 21, 2020

Teenagers are cats.

Try and chase them down. They’ll scurry off into their respective corners with a hiss.

Better to stay the course knowing that at some point, they’ll come out on their own terms. Mostly for food, but sometimes you get lucky.

Red-shirted cat #1 at left, black-socked cat #2 at right. Photo taken in the only way possible to capture teenagers on film – which is to say, without their actual faces


Today started with a heated argument over the Monty Hall problem. The boys were in fierce opposition. Let’s say you’re on the game show Let’s Make a Deal. You pick one of three closed doors, two hiding a goat and one with a car. Monty opens one door to reveal a goat and asks you to keep or switch your door. Is your chance of winning the car 50-50, or do you have a better chance if you choose a different door?

It gives me NO small satisfaction that my guys came to me to settle this for them. I deeply miss my days of being a math teacher and coach, so discussions about this kind of thing are one thousand percent up my alley. I LIVE for this stuff.

(In case you’re wondering, the intuitive answer of 50-50 is incorrect, because that assumes you’re dealing with independent, random events. But Monty Hall knows his stuff, so your second choice is neither one of those. This guy explains it better than I can.)

But I digress.

The three of us spent a solid 45 minutes going back and forth on this. And then when we finished, the guys just…kept hanging out in here.

And right now, each one of them is right by me.

Are they talkative? Yep.
Are they distracting me? Yep.
Do they keep asking me questions? Yep.
Are they preventing me from being as productive as I could be? Yep.

Am I asking them to leave? No. Way. On. Earth.

I’ll take what I can get, when I can get it.

The Important Thing (Hope)

April 20, 2020

I’ve written several poems inspired by Margaret Wise Brown’s The Important Book. My principal asked me to share a poem on a given theme for our poetry month celebration, and I realized I haven’t yet written a poem on that theme.

So I’m going to give it a go. I might like what I write. I might not. I guess that’s the good thing about writing a lot, is the ability to send something out into the world and be okay with it.

Here goes.

The important thing about hope is that it’s inside us.

It strengthens us on difficult days
It creates light and warmth and beauty
Its call raises us in the morning
It whispers us to sleep at night
It’s a quiet flickering flame that we cup with fingers to protect
It passes through us and between us and among us

But the important thing about hope is that it’s inside us.

***

Just for kicks, if you want to check out my other important poetry, you can read about pencils or paper or quiet. But really. If you haven’t checked out The Important Book, what are you waiting for?

Marking Time

April 18, 2020

Today marks five years since my brother’s passing.

Five years since I was working with my husband thinning out the hostas on an unseasonably warm April Saturday and I got the call that my brother was in the ER and that things didn’t look good, that I’d better come down quick.

Five years since I threw a bunch of random clothes in a bag and jumped in my car headed for St. Louis, only to be informed, as I’m turning onto the highway, that he had gone. That I was driving into the epicenter of a disaster that shook – that still shakes – our family to its core.

Five years since I sat awake that night on my parents’ couch, thinking of the devastation wrought upon them and my brother’s family.

I’ve written about my brother, or the way Grief and I have become close, over the last five years. I was thinking about which of those posts I might re-share today, which of those posts might best suit how I’m feeling.

And I suppose the one that I keep coming back to is the one that started it all. The one I composed that very first night, after talking countless times with my sisters over the phone, after sitting with my sister-in-law, and her son in their home, after being with my parents, and all of their grief. This one.

It surprises me how deeply it still reflects the way I see relationships, the way I see grief and compassion. I’ll leave it here for you today. Maybe some of you are in a space where you need it too:

So I heard this story the other day
About a guy
Who saw a lama for his pain.

And the lama
Had trained his heart
To grow big as the sea
So it could shoulder the
Burdens of the suffering
And replace them
With love.

The lama
Asked for the guy’s hands
And took them
Into his
And he asked for the guy’s grief
And took it
Into his heart
And the guy felt better.

I want to do that.

Not to be the guy.

The lama.

Let my heart swell
Limitless
Let love flood.

Place your hands into mine.
I will ask for your pain
And my heart will open wide
Wider
Wider
And swallow your pain
In love.

(C) 2015, Lainie Levin.

The Answer Is…

April 17, 2020

NO.
No, I’m not posting a continuation of the story I started earlier this week.
No, I’m not surprised that e-learning in our state now extends until June.

YES.
Yes, I’m glad I was “with” students when I heard.
Yes, I’m heartbroken and sad.

NO.
No, I’m not quite sure entirely how I feel.
No, I’m not sure where I’m going to “put” this information.

YES.
Yes, I’m going to keep up my daily pep talks.
Yes, my dog Peep will still be my trusty co-star.

NO.
No, I’ve no idea how to talk daily about new stuff for eight weeks.
No, I’m not sure how I will keep things fresh and new and exciting.
No, I’m not sure how many new motivational mantras I’ve got in me.

YES.
Yes, I’m going to keep going anyway.
Yes, I’m going to keep connecting to my students.
Yes, I’m going to worry about my loveys.
Yes, every single one.
Yes, and their families too.
Yes, we will get through this.

NO.
No, I don’t know how.
No, that doesn’t matter.

YES.
Yes, we will get through this.