My Assistant

I rearranged the office situation to have more room to paint and write for school and for me. Monday night I sat down to break in the office with some prep exercises for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) which starts on Friday. I have a few of my classes doing the young writers version of this project — it’s a great way to teach them the elements of fiction by reverse engineering and then creating it – –and I’m doing it in solidarity with them.

I’d been at the desk for a whopping five minutes, trying to come up with a character name for my mythology based cast member, when Lady Jane, our enigmatic gray girl hopped up on the edge of the desk and rolled over onto her back and my notebook.

Her brother, Jim-Bob, had a habit of climbing on my desk and into my arms when I worked at home. We developed a routine that let him sit across my arms without affecting my typing speed. I kept both of us warm and happy with my winter work.

But lady Jane is, or rather has been, much more aloof. She was an outdoor kitty when we adopted her, And although her brother was too, he instantly took to the joy of owning humans. Jane enjoys being petted and being near humans, But she never seem to want the responsibility of letting the humans in her sphere get too attached to her. We can be very demanding of cats, after all.

But, is her third indoor winter approaches, she seems to be having a change of heart. She has appeared on my bed night after night now. She follows me from room to room. And she hops on the desk demanding that attention you focused on her and not on something as inconsequential as a book.

It’s gotten me to wonder if any great authors with short literary resumes were simply kept busy scratching the bellies of felines in whose service they lived. I know that excuse won’t fly with my students, so Jane and I will need to work out a way for me to pet and write at the same time.

Friday Night’s Alright For Inking

Inktober has kept my students busy. Cheering them on has kept me busy enough that I am happily resigned to binge drawing on the weekends. to get caught up. Discovering new talent is a pretty great perk (P.S. the doodles above and below are courtesy of the old talent running this blog).

Day 14 – Overgrown

Day 13 – Ash

My Why

A couple weeks ago I was sitting at a craft fair, the final one of the season. It had hadn’t been well advertised, so no one was selling much. It was just an opportunity to see friends and neighbors, but those opportunities turn out to make some of the nicest days.

An artist friend of mine wandered by my booth, and we caught up with each other about what our kids are doing. She was getting ready for an open studio tour the next weekend, and we started talking about art and practice.

She works in ceramics, teaching her art and creating museum quality pieces of China featuring women in combat. The work is spectacular, and she often credits her evolution as an artist to her experience getting an MFA.

“It was more than just honing my craft,” she said. “Because of the work I did, now I think more about why I make what I make.”

My art is pretty cyclical. In the winter I tend to write more and do watercolors. When the weather gets warm, I get out the oils and go outside. The in between season, when I’m finding my way from one pole to the other, is sometimes confusing but also reflective. It wasn’t until my conversation with my friend, however, that I understood why I wander each season.

I’ve started to realize that making art is something I have to do, but I often feel guilty about it. I worry about the wastefulness of resources in a world that is suffocating from human consumption, and that worry makes me keener to create something that matters in the long run.

Friday afternoon I stayed after school for a while to read IEP’s to verify my data collection. The files include academic goals, and they also cover behavioral issues, including some of the history behind those issues. Sometimes the histories resonate too well, and I come home to my studio to vent on my canvas.

What’s on the canvas rarely has to do with anything in a file. It just gets me closer to mountains and woods and farther from the knowledge of the things people do to each other.

Instead of a canvas, last Friday night brought me back to a children’s book idea that began germinating before I started teaching, even before the #metoo movement was born. It’s a story about a little troll who became a troll because something happened to her. she believes all the negative things people say about trolls until she discovers her own truth.

I had started illustrating the book a couple years ago but put it away because I didn’t like the art. Now it feels like it’s coming back into my life at the perfect time, at a time when I need to find my own truths about art and know why am making what I’m making.


The new girl was introduced to me about 15 minutes after class started. Often they enter the classroom wearing a defiant look as their armor. This one crept into the room, jumping at the rustle of a few papers, her gaze constantly darting from one person to another.

I usually meet them for the first time while class is in session. We introduced each other. I got her set up with a binder and stickers to decorate it. Then I had her start on a creative activity to break the ice between us. I wouldn’t learn how she came to our school until later, when I could read her file, but another student summed up what I was thinking succinctly, however inappropriately:

“Girl has seen some shit.”

The sad fact is that all of them, the defiant ones and the terrified ones have seen shit that no one — especially not a child should see.

This last week, stories of people fleeing yet another invasion in Syria seemed to dominate drive-time news. I listened, thinking about how something as random as the geography of ones birth insulates a person’s peace from the chaos of uncivil wars instigated and enabled by rulers treating people like plastic disposable game pieces . I thought of the children growing up in those war zones, of the shit they’re seeing, and of the adults that they will become. Then, as happens most days recently, I thought of the hundreds and even thousands children growing up in the ‘mini’ war zones all around us and of the adults they are becoming.

My kids are effectively refugees from those ‘mini’ war zones, and I know my job is to build their sense of peace so that they can get down to the business of learning, of growing up.

But peace is a funny thing. It’s not just the absence of gunfire or sirens or broken dishes for a few nights or even a few months. It’s the calm that comes with the knowledge that those things won’t interrupt life again.

Some of our kids, with a lot of help and love, find that certainty, that peace. When they do, they grow. They begin to share their gifts. They learn to control and redirect their anger which, however righteous, consumes peace and energy and everything around it like a dying star. 

But peace is fragile.  It needs maintenance. It begins (or can end) with childhood. And it needs TLC everywhere we want it to exist. 


Selfless self-care

One of the things I’m loving about teaching is that it takes every fiber of your being to do it well. It takes your creativity, your intellect, and your physical input. There’s no way to half-ass it and have any worthwhile outcome. One of the things I love about the place where I teach came as a bit of a surprise to me. During our orientation, the different presenters emphasized the importance of self-care for teachers and caregivers at our school.

All of the students at our residential come to us because of an emotional disturbance due to some sort of complex trauma.. Being affective with the students means being present, and, often, it means hearing stories that, when you get home, bring you to tears. it means having kids yell at you as they vent their frustrations with life and remembering not to take it personally. It means thinking about the people who have done these kids harm and trying not to become hard because becoming hard means you can’t be there for those kids.

I haven’t gone to an hour of the school organized group self-care sessions, but, about a month ago, not knowing why exactly except to save money on health insurance, I decided to start going to a gym. I hit the big 5O back in April and knew that keeping bone density up means doing some resistance training, but the desire to work out was something else. It wasn’t until this weekend that I realized what it was.

I’d behave myself all week, hitting the gym for each of my routines every single day before going home. Sometimes that means getting home a bit late, especially on the days when we have professional development after classes. It also means feeling a little guilty that, in focusing on self care each day, I’m not doing right by one of the two kids who is the most important in my life. I get home feeling more relaxed, but I’m spending less time with him to do so.

This weekend my husband, Thing2 and I have been stacking wood. we have a pretty good system of me carrying logs from the wood pile to a wheelbarrow where Thing2 hands them off to the Big Guy for stacking the way he likes. Ferrying logs, two and four at a time, is it pretty good workout. normally I’d be pretty tired and ready to quit after 15 or 20 minutes. Yesterday and today, however, I was able to keep it going until the boys are ready to quit, and I was happy not just for being able to keep up but because it was another hour each day that the three of us had to talk and joke and sing along to the Beatles albums that were playing as we stacked.

When we finished up for the day a little while ago, we looked at the work we’ve done and then at each other and said to each other, “We done good.“

and I realized that self-care isn’t just about being able to help the kids at school every day, it’s about making sure that when I’m home with my kid, I am really present.

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