Never Too Many

It being a woman’s prerogative to change her mind and her office layout frequently, I have adopted a cheap and flexible method of adding bookshelves to my workspace. A few $10 crates, binder clipped together, are a quick, sturdy(as long as I remember to put the big books on the bottom) solution to my ever-growing collection(Marie Kondo’s excavation method stalled at the door of my office).

The only thing I haven’t figured out is how, despite always creating more space and I think I’ll ever possibly use, I still seem to run out of it with alarming frequency. It begs an answer to the age-old question of which came first — the shelf space or the collection?

First Sunday

This is my first Sunday. This is the first Sunday in over a year and a half that I have gone to church–my church.

I am standing at the bridge that divides our town park from a cow meadow, chasing the clouds with my brush and palette knife, listening to the bells calling from the nearby Episcopal church, and remembering why I have been studying for over a year to make so many things — but especially this — possible. A few cars go by, the birds are putting on a concert, and I feel as if I have really entered the world for the first time in a very long time.

With Great Power…

Over the last few weeks, my office has become a fortress of books (book-titude – could that become a word?) as my list of academic readings and general literature for school gets longer. It’s bumped a few guilty pleasure books to the back of the list, but this post isn’t a rant.

It’s a recognition.

I’m planning summer reading curricula for my middle and high school students, and, in doing so, enjoying an unusual gift. I had reviewed many of the required middle and high school classic works of literature while preparing for my teacher certification exams, but, now, as I dig deeper to find works engaging enough to keep a group of teenagers focused all summer, I’m actually experiencing them.

The second (or third) reads of these books aren’t better than the firsts, but they are richer. There is more context. There is a new perspective conferred on those lucky enough to survive to another reading of an old favorite. There is the unexpected glee of discovering a new favorite not previously recognized, and there is the sudden realization that sharing this experience with another generation, getting them to love these stories, will be a great adventure and also, as Stan Lee might say, a great responsibility.

Adventures in Makeup Land

Going from tech to teaching has meant learning new skills, but evolving from a work at home mom to a professional with places to go and people to see unexpectedly sent me down a cosmetic-ological rabbit hole I’ve avoided for almost a decade.

That’s right. The scariest thing about learning to teach wasn’t lesson planning or classroom management. It was trying to recall the unspoken rules of workplaces that are more than 10 feet from your fridge.

Oh, there are the obvious rules. Pajamas don’t count as a color coordinated outfit. The good jeans are the ones without paint on them (I had to buy new ones). But there was an unspoken rule I had forgotten, that most women ‘put on their faces’ in the work place.

I don’t have anything against make up. But, my for the last 9 1/2 years all of my female office mates sported whiskers, so the there wasn’t much peer pressure for me to put on anything that wasn’t labeled ‘comfy’, and I fell out of the makeup habit. Then, about a week ago, a student’s (obviously killer) essay about the benefits of wearing makeup inadvertently made me realize that I was the only teacher without it. It was like putting a drug-laced, chocolate cake on the table. Even with out a label, I had to have a nibble.

So I headed to the local superstore. I filled the cart with homework supplies and tube socks for Thing2, and then hunted for the makeup aisle. The glow from the overly lit shelves was easier to see than the ‘Cosmetics’ sign hanging above it. Normally, in dreams or visions, I try to avoid going toward the light, but I had eaten the metaphorical cake (and, just incase, I had some literal cake earlier in the day, too), and it was time to dive in.

Now surrounded by glowing shelves of shrink-wrapped packages that could have been mistaken for candy, I scratched my head a couple times, trying to remember the bare minimum components for constructing a face.

Then I saw a fuzzy wand and remembered putting on mascara once upon a time. There was brown-black, black-black, blue-black, brown-brown and some colors I definitely don’t remember existing in the store or nature the last time I put on the stuff. I picked brown-black, figuring it would cover most of my bases.

Next up, purely by virtue of having been on the next set of racks, was concealer. I remembered what that was. There were too many colors of ivory and ‘nude’ to pick from, however, so I moved down the aisle to look for something that didn’t require a PhD in color therapy to pick out.

Next to the concealer, I found something called primer. I looked around to see if the Candid Camera people were filming. There’s was only the store’s security camera, so then I checked the sign at the end of the aisle to make sure I hadn’t accidentally sidled into the hardware section. Maybe they’d just miscategorized ‘spackle’ as ‘concealer’.

An hour after I wandered in, I rolled my cart out of the white light with the Indiana Jones music playing in my head. There was a mascara tube, a thing of ‘foundation’ whose primary benefit was its SPF and some eyeshadow next to the tube socks. I still had no idea what primer was supposed to do, but I have plenty at home in the paint closet, just in case.

Now it was time to locate the metaphorical bottle that read ‘Drink Me’ and figure out how to put it on without looking like a clown. I decided to do a test run on a non-work day.

I assembled my new collection and took off my glasses to put on the mascara. I moved closer to and then farther from the mirror, trying to see what I was coating. Do they make a version of this for people with bifocals, I wondered? The last time I put on this stuff, my eyes were younger.

Okay, we’ll skip the mascara. I thought. Let’s try the foundation. With my glasses still off, I tried to open the little, round compact that was, apparently, cleverly designed as a mini-puzzle box so you could feel like Indiana Jones trying to open some archeological wonder. I found the magic word (four letters as luck would have it) and it popped open with the foam applicator underneath. I swathed on the powder, hoping it would match my office-dweller pallor.

I put on my glasses and went in for a look. All I needed was some fangs and red lipstick, and the vampire look would be complete. Maybe some eye shadow will help, I thought. I queued up the Indiana Jones music again as I started to open the eye shadow package. It opened more easily but contained no doo-hickeys to apply the war paint (yes, it was a war at this point). But, I’m an artist. I like to improvise, so, glasses off, I scraped a dab or two onto my finger and then smeared it onto my eyelids.

I worked for about 30 minutes trying to remember what color went where and finally ended up with an eyelid covered with a nondescript brown. I put my glasses back on and stepped back to see the overall effect. Dang, I still look like me, only finally old enough to buy calcium supplements without an ID.

And then it hit me. I’d found this new job with a makeup-less face. I’d figured out the goals for our students. All of those goals center around what is going into their heads, not onto their faces. If makeup makes them (or any other person) feel good, they should wear it. For me, it’s just one more thing to do that doesn’t materially add anything to my life. The monochromatic face with the blotchy eyes staring back at me yesterday was a reminder that the most important rule in this line of work is that you can’t encourage others to be themselves without accepting yourself – warts, wrinkles, and all.

Sparks Fly

Gratuitous Cat Picture

Several years ago, friend and writing mentor Jon Katz invited me to teach a drawing class to a group of boys who received services at a refugee center in Albany. I didn’t know it, but my life was about to fundamentally change, and, sometimes, change can feed a creative spark in wonderfully unexpected ways.

Prior to that workshop, the only thing I had ever taught anyone to do was how to use the potty, tie a shoe, or drive a car. I still haven’t figured out how to teach a teenage boy how to throw a sock in a hamper, but something made me believe I could teach other people’s kids how to draw.

There were two big ideas I wanted them to take home — that drawing is for everyone and that it can change your life. To impart those ideas, I started with a few free drawing exercises designed simply to get people drawing without any preconceptions, and those boys drew.

They sketched energetic interpretations of the trees, of the farm, and, slowly, of parts of their lives.

There is something magical about watching a young artist or writer emerge. The magic is even stronger when you know you were part of it. That magic is the creative spark coming to life, and, as I saw boys who had started the day telling us they ‘weren’t artists’ prove their inner critics wrong, I knew exactly where my path was about to take me.

It’s May, and I’m just completing an internship at a school that specializes in helping students with learning disabilities and complex trauma resulting from various types of abuse. All of my new students have their sparks, but they are often tiny and underfed. The students, like so many people, smother the embers with the misconception that life won’t get better — that life can’t change. There have been a few years of twists and turns in my own journey, but I am back in the magical position of taking part in proving my students’ doubts wrong.

I knew, when I started my teacher training, that I wanted to work with these students most of all because I know them. But for grace keeping that creative spark in my life, I could have been them. Now, as I move from intern to licensed teacher, I know that my real job will be to give them the tools to forge their own paths, using their sparks to light the way.

Working two jobs and studying may have sucked the oxygen of time from my painting and writing life. The embers are still there, however, and the fuel is accumulating. As the ideas pile up, I’ve started to realize that the unexpected signing bonus of my new career is that, in encouraging others’ sparks, I’ve been feeding my own. As jobs go, that’s pretty hard to beat.


Last night I learned friend had died. We didn’t get to know each other for very long before she got sick from cancer, but I think we both sensed a budding connection, forged by similar senses of humor.

Early on in her illness, she seemed confident she would beat it. We met a few times at the local café, and she would announce the countdown to her last chemo treatment with a calm assurance that this, too, would pass. Her face would tell a different story, but I chose to believe the confidence because I knew we both wanted too.

I kept that belief over the last few months, even as we lost touch her treatments and my decision to start a graduate teacher preparation program kept both of us out from socializing for very different reasons.

A few weeks ago another friend of mine were sitting at that same café wondering if we should reach out, if our friend was at a place where she could receive social calls. Less than 24 hours after our wondering, we learned that her disease was about to come to a sad end, and we both cried.

The first six months of 2019 have been marked by the loss of several friends, and, once, I would have steeped myself in grief and loss. A few years ago, however, another very close friend passed away, and her passing forever changed that. She knew her life was about to end, and, instead of planning a funeral for her self, decided to throw a going away party and tell her friends how grateful she had been to have them in her life. The Big Guy and I cried after we left it, but come up for the most part we went home and into our lives grateful for having known her. I still see her fingerprints around our town, and they make me think of her, and I smile.

Last night, I wept because it is normal to do so when you lose a friend. Then I thought of our short time together and of the places where I will likely see her fingerprints and smile, and made a conscious decision to go to bed grateful for having met her, even if it was for far too brief period of time.

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