Thursday, April 6, 2017

Down The Rabbit Hole of Gratitude

Our world is messed up.
Seriously messed up.

We have a president that openly lies...few call him on it.
So truth becomes "fake news".
Down is up.

Refugees are shut out.
Immigrants pushed to the shadows.

Public schools are on notice...maybe they don't need the money that they have...maybe they can donate to a private school in the name of "choice"...another false narrative.
There's no choice when they won't let you in...
except for maybe Historically Black Colleges - touted as the originators of choice by the woman running the Department of Education - who never worked in a public school.

The Environmental Protection Agency...maybe that should be optional.
Maybe not everybody is equal.
Freedom is your documents as you exit your domestic flight.

Let's watch Republicans change 230 years of precedent when it comes to the Supreme Court...
like Veruca Salt, THEY WANT IT NOW, DADDY!

Those Trump-Russia ties are only in your imagination.
Along with climate change.

And what about the immigrants...taken from schools and courthouses, placed in detention centers...
where and for how long?
No one can answer.
No one knows.

It is disgraceful.

As you can see...the world is upside down.

Deep breathing, long walks, fervent prayers aside what is a person to do?

Since books are my happy place, I hunkered down into The Book of Joy - a conversation between the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

It became the salve of my heart.
My haven.
Something I carried with me wherever I went.

I've lived a grateful focused life since I began the practice of writing down
5 things as a project for 2003.

I have many many journals filled with those moments of gratitude.

It's a part of the way I see the world now.
Embedded into almost every interaction with others, every small moment with my kids, every ordinary chore like washing dishes or even washing my hands.

I water, soap, the ability to squish my hands together under the running water, the gift of clean hands to prepare a meal...and away I go. Finished with my chore and filled up with gratitude.

It's a life changing vantage point.


So, reading The Book of Joy, I nodded knowingly when both the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu kept circling back to the importance of gratitude.

I got this.
This is something I am good at...
Gratefulness 101 = A+

Only those two don't teach the beginner course on gratitude...they move it deeper...they nudge you further down the road.

You can get your PhD in it if you hang out with those guys long enough.

Like anyone really great in their field, both of these men offer their wisdom freely.
They share.
They work to get the word out.

No price of admission.

If you read The Book of Joy to the end, you will get to their "Joy Practices".

Mental Immunity
Morning Intention Setting
Overcoming Obstacles to Joy
Cultivating the Eight Pillars of joy
Rejoicing in your Day
Relationship and Community - The Greatest Joy

It was here where I tumbled down the Rabbit Hole of Gratitude.

Under Humility - A Lojong Practice - I found what my heart needed that day...
and it has helped in this upside down world every day since.

The book asks you to:
"Reflect on all the people who are responsible for your life."

At first, I was simplistic...thought of my mom and dad and moved on...
to this:

"Think of your parents who gave you life, your teachers who taught you, the people who grew your food and who made your clothes, the countless others who are responsible for your having the life that you have each and every day. Now think of all those who discovered and created all of the things we take for granted, the housing, the crops, and the medicines that keep you alive. 
Think of all the ancestors, who had to live and survive, so that you could be born, who braved enormous hardship so that you could have the life that you do. 
Now think of the family and friends who give your life meaning."

That one paragraph stopped me cold.

In all of the years that I have been keeping a Grateful Journal, did I ever stop and thank the people who came before me?
Or the inventors, the designers, the researchers, the creative artists who have influenced my life?

Not really.

If you stop and try to thank all of these people it can be a rabbit hole of amazing.

It goes like this...step into a public restroom.

Who came up with the idea and effort and work to place this restroom here?
Who actually dug the pipes?
Who invented the pipes?
Who mined the copper?
Where did that come from?
Who designed and created the place that collects the water that flows through these pipes?
Who designed the tile on the floor?
Who made the tile?
Shipped it?
Laid it?
Who designed the sink?
The faucet?
The paper towel dispenser?
The toilet paper??
(thank you!)
The blow dryer hand dryer?
The soap?
Who created the first window?
What about the lights?
The actual structure of the building?
Who were the people who worked on my behalf to build it?
Who funded it?
Was it a city?
Who founded the city?

On and on it goes...

Literally, you can get lost in the gratefulness.

This "humility" as the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu describe it is mind blowing.

In those moments of consideration,
you see the interconnectedness of our world...
you see the beauty of hard work, creativity, persistence, boldness,
ordinary mankind finding a way to make things better.

If you have gotten down in the rabbit hole with me,
you can imagine what it feels like when you enter a grocery store.
Lately, tears have sprung to my eyes as I stop to look at the produce and consider the many hundreds or thousands of people who have been working so hard on farms, in food production, in food companies, in advertising and grocery stores just to bring me this food.

How about a coffee store?
A library?
A road?
A sidewalk?
A park?
A building?
A garden?

Trying to come up out of the rabbit hole...and into daily life gets harder and harder.
It's like Alice says when looking through the looking glass:

"Well, now that we have seen each other," said the unicorn,
"if you'll believe in me, I'll believe in you."
-- Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, And What Alice Found There

I've seen a unicorn.

Or have I?

Like Einstein notices...each of us gets to choose:
either everything is a miracle or nothing is.

Today, I choose miracle.
Ordinary miracle.
Ordinary holiness.

So many gifts freely available down that rabbit hole.
Try it.
Let me know what you see.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Grace Bats Last

I didn't mean to do it.
I was rushing - trying to get my kids to school - calculating the opportunity cost of three minutes , maybe it would be two, of putting on my shoes.

No time.

I couldn't afford another tardy.
I broke my ankle last August and the sheer obstacle course of living my life without bearing weight on one of my legs for eight weeks made for quite a few tardies in my son's life.

So, on this rainy day, I walked barefoot to my car.

Dropped the kids off successfully.
Went to get out of my car and my feet landed in a very small puddle.

It was a foot baptism.

It brought me to the moment.
Took me out of my to-do list...
my oh-my-gosh-our-world-has-gone-nuts list...
my distracted movement through my days...
to a tiny puddle.

It felt so good that a thought popped into my mind:
take Buddy for a walk, barefoot.

I did just that.

Giggling at the craziness.
Enjoying the light-heartedness.
Relishing my ankle's new found strength...

I baptized myself.

It was just what my heart needed.

I want you know something very important:
YOU and YOU alone know your path to healing.

Even if its weird, or makes no sense, or seems impossible like walking the Pacific Crest Trail did for Cheryl Strayed, you know it.

So I walked and felt the bumpy earth, the soft grass, the twigs and leaves still left on the ground.

I walked and thought of all the many people who can't walk, who are in a hospital fighting for their life, in a prison locked away, in a grief stupor too deep to feel anything...and felt the breath of grace.

As I walked, I reminded myself of my warm shower, my cozy clothes, my very happy stripe-y umbrella and again thought of the blessings I often do not notice.

This past week-end, dear friends of mine celebrated their eight day old son's Bris.
They called it Superbowl Bris Day.

What's a Bris?
It is a celebration of life - an ancient faith-filled tradition for people of the Jewish faith.
At the Bris, the family reveals the Hebrew name they have given their son.

Etan's Hebrew name is Elie Shimon.
He is named after two incredible heroes of the Jewish faith that passed away while his mother was pregnant with him.

one a Nobel prize winning author and Holocaust survivor, 
the other an Israeli politician that was both the President and the Prime Minister...
and peace-maker.

Watching Etan's family welcome him in such a mindful, intentional way was humbling and healing.
Having the opportunity to read these words at his Bris is a gift I hold very close to my heart:

"You are your parents' dream realized, their hopes fulfilled.
You are the latest and best chapter in the unfolding lives of your family.

You are a bridge over which we, who welcome you, can gaze from this day into future days, 
from our generation into yours.
You are the newest link in the endless chain of our shared history."

Etan's parents shared a powerful quote of Elie Wiesel's:
"Mankind must remember that peace is not God's gift to us,
peace is our gift that we give to each other."


Like the rain, at some moments it is ever-present and at other times it can feel far off.

It is within our grasp.
We must only stop and stare with wonder and joy at the gifts showered upon us every single day.

So, for today...I'm grateful for the rain.
For my dog.
For being able to be barefoot and steady...
for friendship and faith...
blessings and grace.

Mostly, I'm grateful for love.
It is sovereign here.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Dear Old World...

Dear Old World,
You're such a contradiction...roses, tea time, hot water, friendship, kindness, love...
Lies, undrinkable water, rubber bullets, tyranny, corruption, disregard...
How can it be reconciled?
What does a person do?


Just a couple of weeks ago, my 24 year old son was lamenting our world and then asked,
"I need to find some uplifting fiction."

Since we were talking on the phone, I just decided to Google it right then and there...
the number one book on the list:
Anne of Green Gables.

I laughed out loud.

I'd been reading this book every night for a few months with my younger daughter, 10 year old Caroline...and, indeed, I found it to be my very favorite part of my day.
It was a respite.
A haven.

Sweet Anne just melted my heart every time.

First off, you need to know that Anne is an orphan who lands at a house in the darling town of Avonlea on Prince Edward Island as a mistake. An adult brother and sister who live on a farm and are both unmarried had put in that they wanted a young orphan boy to help with chores on the farm...
But when Matthew comes to the train station to pick up the orphan boy he is surprised to find a little girl of about eleven years old.

Matthew is shocked to find this young girl...and shocked more when the train official says, "I asked her to go into the ladies' waiting room, but she informed me gravely that she preferred to stay outside. "There was more scope for imagination," she said."

Right there on p. 15 we meet Anne and we find out an important clue into her heart.
Imagination matters.

It had been a long time since my imagination was summoned, but Anne called to it like some sort of Emergency Broadcast System and it found its way back home.

Turns out that Anne's imagination was her defense against a difficult world. 

When Matthew meets Anne she immediately showers him with all of her thoughts.
She shares her plans if he had not come, she shares about her carpet bag and she shares this tidbit:

"Oh it seems so wonderful that I am going to live with you and belong to you.
I've never belonged to anybody - not really."

That sentence caught in my throat as I said it out loud.

I have had the privilege of belonging for my entire life.
So many many children ache for it.
I'm crushed to consider Anne's plight...even if for a moment.

Anne is so full of life and light that her conversation with Matthew is a comfort to all of us. She points out the beauty of cherry blossoms. The fun of not knowing and asking questions, the joy of having a companion to notice things with...she continues:
"Isn't it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? 
It just makes me feel glad to be alive - it's such an interesting world."

She is on the look out for kindred spirits...and she finds them, plenty of them, in some of the most unlikely people, including a crotchety old woman and darling, shy Matthew.

Always be on the look out for a kindred spirit...they are all around. 

Anne makes plenty of mistakes...
which lead to this gem:

She is stubborn, super smart, over dramatic and hilarious.

She's reflective, which in turn helped Caroline and me to consider this:
"What a splendid day! said Anne drawing a long breath, "I pity the people who aren't born yet for missing it.
They may have good days, of course, but they can never have this one."

Never have I pitied those who haven't been born for the loss they have endured for not living my wonderful day...but after that, I started to consider what amazing days came before my life and how much I may have missed...more than that, I stopped to gratefully cherish this day right now...
it will never come again...
those babies are missing it...
and it's pretty incredible.

But, it was the very last chapter, The Bend in the Road, that sealed my Anne Adoration.

Anne has won a scholarship to college. This is a very prestigious prize since at the time very few women go to college.
But, as life does, hard things happened.
Precious Matthew, her biggest fan and best encourager, passes away in a shocking way.
Marilla, Anne's adoptive mother and Matthew's sister, is ailing and looks to be unable to care for Green Gables. Marilla, seeing no other solution, puts Green Gables up for sale.

Anne will have none of that.

She changes her plans and works to find a way to work as a teacher nearby.
She will stay at Green Gables with Marilla.

"I shall give my life here my best, and I believe it will give its best to me in return.
When I left Queen's my future seemed to stretch out before me like a straight road.
I thought I could see along it for many a milestone.
Now there's a bend in it.
I don't know what lies around the bend, but I'm going to believe that the best does.
It has a fascination of its own, that bend, Marilla.
I wonder how the road beyond it goes - what there is of green glory and soft, checkered light and shadows - what new landscapes - what new beauties - what curves and hills and valleys farther on...

...Anne's horizons had closed in since the night she had sat there after coming home from Queen's but if the path set before her feet was to be narrow she knew that flowers of quiet happiness would blossom along it. The joys of sincere work and worthy aspiration and congenial friendship were to be hers; nothing could rob her of her birthright of fancy or her ideal world of dreams."

Anne's ability to handle the bend in the road with her one-of-a-kind grace and graciousness were just the lift up my heart needed.

Watching her think through the options and adjust so nimbly was a great reminder.
We are capable of so much goodness.
So much kindness.
So much belonging. this world where so much difficulty lies, what books have soothed your soul?
Spoken to your spirit?
Nourished the aching parts?

For Caroline and me, it's been sweet Anne.
With an "e".

Enjoying the pearls in our days.
How about you?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

My One Word for 2017...What's Yours?

Happy New Year!

It's 2017...which makes Y2K look kind of cute.
Remember all that craziness?
For those of you too young to remember, our computers weren't going to be able to handle moving from 1999 to 2000...we needed Y2K kits and preparation.

Now, 17 years later, we have different craziness.
Other worries.

And a brand new deck of 365 beautiful days.
Aren't we lucky?

Right this minute, think of the many people who wish for just one more day...
and you have a red carpet of days rolled out just for you.


There's this thing going around Twitter asking you to choose a word for the New Year.
#One Word2017

This word is to serve as a guide, a motivator, a touchstone...a rudder for the year.

As a lover of words...this is a nearly impossible task.
Last year, I skipped the hype...too overwhelmed at the thought.

But, this year, my word found me.

Remember Naomi Shihab Nye?
If not, read this blog post about this lovely soul right here.

In preparing to meet Naomi, I listened to a beautiful interview with her on a podcast called On Being.
In it, she reveals a beautiful interaction with a student.

Naomi had traveled to Japan for a poetry-teaching trip.
Before every class, on every chalkboard, she would write something on the board up in the corner:
“You are living in a poem.”
She wrote this as a subliminal message.
She wouldn't spend time discussing it...she had other more important things to share...
like poems or poets or observations or ways to seamlessly include poetry in your life.

But she wanted students to consider it.

In the On Being episode, Naomi thinks out loud:

"When you think, 
when you're in a very quiet place, 
when you're remembering,
when you're savoring an image, 
when you're allowing your mind to calmly leap from one thought to another, 
that's a poem.
That's what a poem does."

After her trip, Naomi received a letter from one of the students in Yokohama, Japan.
Reflecting on Naomi's visit, the student gifts her with this observation:

"Here in Japan, we have a concept called Yutori.
It is spaciousness.
It's a kind of living with spaciousness.

For example, it is leaving early enough to get somewhere so that you know you are going to arrive early, so when you get there,
you have time to look around...

...and after you read a poem, 
Yutori is...
just knowing you can hold it,
you can be in that space of the poem
and it can hold you in that space...

and you don't have to explain it,
you don't have to paraphrase it,
you just hold it...

...and it allows you to see differently."

And, BAM.
In that minute, Yutori captured me.
Hypnotized me.
Like a song that gets stuck in your head, Yutori would not get out.

Maybe it's because my life is busy...
and spaciousness doesn't seem like a very common part of my life.
Maybe it's because I often feel distracted when I want to be present.

Maybe it's the world I live in...
constant constraints...
a series of reasons why it can't be done...
why it is impossible...
always feeling like I am pushing against walls...

the idea of spaciousness has stuck to my heart like a sticky leaf.


One of my favorite phrases for teachers 
and parents
and mostly myself...
is Emily Dickinson's:

I LOVE to dwell in possibility.
Soak up possibility like it is a warm bath.
Anything is possible.

I believe it, completely.

So maybe Yutori is just a reflection of that.

Spaciousness makes room for possibility.

All I can tell you is that living with spaciousness, I feel different.
Willing to linger...
...and that is what I need in 2017.

My heart knows it intuitively.

So, my gift to you is this precious word.


I hope it offers you the comfort of enough...
more than enough.
The gift of feeling that anything is possible.
The treasure of a peaceful heart...
and a willing mind.

Roll it around in your head and let me know...
and if that's not the word for you...
test out a few others.

Share with me the word that finds you.

Until then, let your head find some open space and rest.
Let your heart find comfort in plenty of room.
Stretch out...
you're wanted here.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Why Poets Should Negotiate Peace Treaties or The Power of a Clump of Words

In the fall after Patrick was diagnosed with leukemia - Fall 2002 - 
I was making lunch for Patrick and listening to CNN.

I heard a lively anchor share a news story in an upbeat voice...
she had something great to share...
and I needed great...
so I listened.

I paused my lunch making and listened:

"The latest research shows that if your child is in day care, 
they have less chance of developing leukemia."

Shit, really?

You mean, if Patrick had been in day care we could have avoided all this?


I rewound the past few years of Patrick's baby life.
His birth.
His instant diagnosis of Down Syndrome...
not even a single day of life free from that label...

another diagnosis that took only a few days of life: a heart defect.
In need of open heart surgery at nine weeks old...

coming home from the hospital and just wanting to love my baby...
and somehow, some way, tend to my other kids...

day care was last on my list.

Now, just a mere two years later, the leukemia diagnosis and the Three Year Protocol - always sated with capital letters - and the big unknowns...
Life...what does it look like three years from now?
Health? Is that possible three years from now?
Family? What does that feel like three years after this?

Just hours after that CNN report, in the dark of night as I am not sleeping, 
I watch Bill Moyers interview a poet, a Palestinian-American poet,
Naomi Shihab Nye,
and I hear her voice read a poem...
this poem...
and it changes my life.

I'm instantly different because of the words.

I gift them to you, right here:

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.


Those words made everything in my world make sense.
I clung to them.
Sorrow became a tattoo that I could locate on others...
which allowed me to locate the kindness.

I wish I could convey the depth of those words in the engraving on my heart...

...but as life likes to do,
I moved on.
Patrick survived - truthfully, thrived - through the Three Year Protocol.
I stumbled and bumbled through it...with plenty of bad attitude and crushing worry.

2005 happened and our family cheered.
We snuck away from blood counts and chemo...
we hid from conversations about blood cancer...
and we got away with it.

No one came looking.

2006 arrived and brought its amazing grace, sweet baby Caroline, and life got busy...
with the regular things...
school lunches, soccer practice, homework...

Naomi's poem hibernated within my heart.

2016 arrived with election insanity...
meanness as an accepted way to live in our world...
shutting our collective eyes to refugees...
so, so, so, so many of them...
plugging our ears to the din of the poor, the overlooked, the desperately lonely...
and along comes Naomi Shihab Nye - chosen as the UC Davis School of Education's 
Author in Residence and Words Take Wing Author.

Something within me, sleepy from slumber, awakened.
She will be my

I couldn't fathom the good fortune.
Couldn't take it.
Kept shoving it down...
and then it happened.

December 13th, 2016 Naomi Shihab Nye was hanging out in Davis and our worlds collided.

I first got to hear her speak to student teachers...a room full of worn out beginning vulnerable and shy...about 40 of them.
Do you know what she tells them?
First thing.
I know because I took copious notes the entire time she was around...
like a stenographer on steroids...
she said:

"I congratulate you on your life choice to go into teaching and knowing that teaching is the center of where it happens."


You may not hang out with beginning teachers...or any teachers...but I want to stop here and point out how incredibly UNcommon this gift was that she gave the student teachers...why? 
Well, virtually NO ONE congratulates someone on going into teaching.
They get the constant refrain of one of these reactions:
A) Well, you get your summers off, that's awesome!
B) Yeah, I thought of teaching too... (as if it is the best second place option around)
C) Are you sure? You make so little money. 

It's hard work to become a teacher - really hard - and to be met with those three reactions wears even the most optimistic, badass beginning teacher down.

So, to have a world-renown, award-winning poet come in an begin with a congratulations...well, it was a gift. 
A genuine gift. And we could all feel it.


She reads an excerpt from a book called, News of the World:
"Maybe life is just carrying the news...surviving to carry the news...maybe we just have one message, it is delivered to us the day we are born..."

And then she asks us to think about our message.
What is it?

She asks us to write it down.
And she says:
I'm not going to ask you to read this, it's just for you to hold.

She reminds the teachers that
"Creative writing needs to be an ongoing practice - not saved for the last weeks of May."
[Beth, are you listening??]

She makes writing accessible to each of us...
shows the teachers how to help their students write with their hearts...
makes it seem effortless...
like, of course, I could write a poem...
she shares the poems of 6 year olds and Palestinians...
she reminds us that we are Living in a Poem...
and touches us with the beauty of a lemon, a walk with a friend, a note of hope.

Her gift is helping all of us see poetry.

Like hieroglyphics, we all think it's cool. 
We feel a kinship.
We want to know what it means.

Naomi, shows us what poetry is...
and helps us to feel that it is essential.
Like oxygen.


After school, Naomi does another session for the Resident Teachers that host our student teachers.

Her energy is palpable.
Her reverence for the teachers is a gift she bestows on them...
like one of the Three Kings.

She's a bright light.

Spoiler alert: we shared starlight...big time.

She shows us our humanity and the thread that binds us.
Holds it up and then weaves it...
reminds us of our connection...
our beauty...
our messages and stories that we each MUST share.

She reads us poem after poem - of other poets -
friends of hers, mentors.

She shares the story of Juan Felipe Herrera - our nation's current Poet Laureate - how when he was in school, he said no words out loud, tried to disappear -
embarrassed by his inability to speak English - he hid behind a bush and sang a song that his mother and grandmother sang to him during lunch...passing on the other side of the bush, Juan Felipe's 3rd grade teacher...she stopped to listen.

Juan Felipe tells the story that after lunch, his teacher asked him to come to the front of the classroom and sing. He was shocked! Afraid! Disoriented...but his teacher had asked and so he did.
The classmates applauded and the teacher said the words that changed his life.
Five words.
"You have a beautiful voice."

With that little bit of encouragement, Juan Felipe began raising his hand, began seeing himself as a student, began to believe in himself and share his voice.

Sprinkling that story on the teachers, Naomi reminded them that they too,
have a beautiful voice...and beautiful profession...
a noble duty.
A sacred calling. 
She gifted them a chance to see the beauty in their work.
The importance of their influence.
Pausing and reminding them that they change lives.

She had us write "clumps of words" and used those clumps to help us write poems.
We shared them in this small group at 5 o'clock at night...
watching the twilight...
feeling connected.

This Palestinian American poet brought with her a cloud of grace...
and it was then that I wanted to be in charge of the world.

I wanted to be able to appoint peace negotiators...
what if we had a Palestinian poet, an Israeli poet and a Palestinian-American poet all gather and forge out some peace with a few "clumps of words".

It might only take five words, like it did for Juan Felipe.
It might take twenty five...but we know poets are known for their choosy, careful way with words...we can be sure that unnecessary phrases would be absent. 
No posturing.
No facades.
No misleading text...

everything cut away to just a few words:

Thank you, Naomi Shihab Nye for your heroic ability to 
step out of your line and draw a larger circle.
Thank you for reminding me of the power of a clump of words...
the beauty in Kindness...
the love of the ordinary...
and the gift of a few clumps of words.

My circle is larger thanks to you.

Friday, December 2, 2016

How The 4 Rules of Improv Are The 4 Rules of Inclusion...Maybe The 4 Rules of Life

Recently I read Tina Fey's Bossypants for my book club.
I don't usually like to read autobiographies of celebrities...
but Tina Fey offered some lightness and laughs that I have been sorely needing,
so I did what I've been doing since I was a little girl...
escaped down the rabbit hole of story.l

Tina Fey offers all sorts of insights and observations that are pretty spot on in our crazy world.
One of my favorites is when she speaks about her dad, both a Korean War veteran and a firefighter, who was no nonsense and sensible at every turn.

This quote as she considers what she can do when parenting her tiny daughter, Alice,
 was a classic insight into the insanity of our times:
"How can I give her what Don Fey gave me? The gift of anxiety. The fear of getting into trouble.
The knowledge that while you are loved, you are not above the law.
The World Wide Parental Anxiety System is failing if this many of us have made sex tapes." 


What the heck is going on?
Do we need a world-wide Don Fey moment?
Sure feels like it.
Maybe we can all get called into the principal's office, 
reconsider our transgressions and straighten the hell up.

But, the part that made me become a Fan For Life is Tina Fey's 4 Rules of Improv.

Let's start with Rule #1 - SAY YES 

This is a pretty great place to start.
Just imagine if you began with an open mind every single day.

Mom, can I climb that tree?
Can you help me out?
Can that student be in your classroom?

In education - and especially at IEP time - (which is the Individualized Educational Plan for a student with identified learning needs - go buy yourself a lotto ticket if you have never heard of such a thing and thought it meant I Eat Pancakes) - teachers and specialists sit around a table and ask burning questions, like, how much time can the student be in the regular classroom.

Cheat sheet answer: ALL THE TIME

Yes, we can figure it out.
Yes, we can do this.

What if we started with yes in our lives??
What if we lived an open-hearted life?

Rule #2: It's not just Yes...

Add something of your own.
This is huge.
Because sometimes when you say yes, you are just dragging your feet.
You don't really mean it.
So it's a half-hearted yes.

The YES, AND forces the issue and asks you to be better than that.
The YES, AND asks you to be ALL IN.

You have to put some of yourself out there.
If you're in an IEP meeting and they ask, can this student be in your room...
if you are following Rule #2, you must say,
"Yes, and..." and create a real path to being fully in that room.

Tina Fey goes further, she reminds us: "Don't be afraid to contribute. Always make sure you are adding something to the discussion. Your initiations are worthwhile."

Meaning, you're better than the simple yes.
The lazy, wimpy well, ok.


Rule #3: Make Statements
This means, don't ask questions all the time.
When you ask questions, you are putting pressure on someone else to come up with all of the answers.


Get creative.
Problem solve.
Think like a kid.

Don't be the person who is just sitting around pointing out all of the obstacles.
As Tina Fey so clearly says, "That person is a drag."
Can I get an Amen?

We've all been around that person.
The It's-Always-Been-Done-This-Way person...
Or the I'm-Not-So-Sure person...

Schools like to reach consensus on difficult decisions...
but those side-line questioners make that nearly impossible...
which means things never get done...
or students wait on the sidelines hoping to get a chance.

Find a way to figure it out.

Rule #4: There are NO mistakes
This is the Growth Mindset in its stealth fighter jet mode.

If we come from the vantage point that there are no mistakes,
all we see are opportunities.
Or as Tina Fey likes to remind us: Beautiful, Happy Accidents.

Adults get good at avoiding moments that are risky.
We opt out.
Or say no.

What if we stepped out of our comfort zone and found a way to enjoy our mistakes?
Now, that could be life-changing.
Now imagine a child watching you...
learning from you...
realizing that this is where the growth is.

The sweet spot of learning.

Besides, it just makes for a happier workplace and a happier home.

It's not so serious.
Take a chill pill.

Put them all together and I'm thinking you have a great life mantra...
or at the very least a guide to improv,
AND a guide to inclusion in schools.

We need more people to say yes.
Laugh a little.
Open your heart.
Be one of those people.

We need you now more than ever.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Grace Under Pressure: America's Teachers

Wednesday, November 9th, 2016, the day after the most contentious presidential election in our recent memory,
was a school day.

School teachers and principals everywhere had to find a way, any way, to create unity in a time of division and open cruelty.

Donald Trump is now the President.

Donald Trump - who acted throughout the entire election season in a disrespectful, antagonistic, loud-mouthed, divisive way - won.

So, teachers who work on holding their students to standards of respect, tolerance and kindness for the first time had to look at their President and then look away.

Then they had to enter their classrooms and find a way to change the message.

As the universe would have it, I had to be in classrooms that day.
Normally, in the fall, I only go into classrooms on Mondays and Tuesdays, but because of a scheduling glitch I had to be there this Wednesday.

I like to think of it as divine intervention.

I was melancholy watching so much hatred and vitriol and as someone who loves children - hangs out with children all the time - I couldn't comprehend this new reality for them.
For us.

What would school be like?
What would my student teachers face?
How could a school create unity when the country was so divided?

How can you hold kids accountable when the adults in the room are acting anything but?

I walked onto an elementary school campus and was greeted with three third graders marching and saying: "We need a recount. Recount. Recount."
Who even knows that word in third grade?

I walked into a classroom before school had even started and found two veteran teachers in tears...and my student teacher just quietly watching.

"What do we tell the students?
How can we ask our students to behave with kindness and respect when we have this President?"

Good questions.

But time was ticking.
They didn't have a script.
No instruction manual...
students were coming.

Deep breaths.
Game faces on.

Good morning.

I watched it unfold in classroom after classroom.

Sat in awe as teachers comforted and listened.

Sometimes they gathered their students together and reaffirmed for them that this school in this place was safe and most importantly was theirs.

Sometimes they talked about democracy and founding fathers and the idea that every single one of us gets a vote.

I watched a student teacher guarantee her students safety, tolerance and respect in such a commanding way that I got teary eyed taking my notes with her words.
She helped her students see the beauty in our nation...
in our equality...
in our traditions and our government.

She offered every student herself.

If they didn't feel safe;
if they felt like they wanted to talk;
if they wanted to share a story...
she was there to listen.

I know a teacher who took the last part of the day to make friendship bracelets.
"Go ahead and work on a bracelet and think about who you will give it to in this classroom."

We are all friends here.

That guidance.
That steady hand.
Those loving arms.
Big hearts.
Listening ears...
that's what happened in school today.

All around the country, America's teachers steadied the course.
They went to work...
picking up the pieces and creating a beautiful mosaic.

Holding the expectations high.
Showing children what it means to be American.

These incredible people are stitching our children together,
binding them with love and kindness.

Living tolerance.
Breathing respect.
Inhaling peace.
Exhaling chaos.

If you want to know where to look during this time of disequilibrium and division...stop at a school.

Watch a teacher in action.
Listen to her big book about friendship.
Let the music of children's voices float over you.
Rise to the expectations of a child's best version of you.

We can do this.

We have their example.

Follow their rules:

Be safe.
Be productive.
Be kind.

America's teachers offer all of us a glimpse of extraordinary grace
during the least ordinary of times.

All we can do is follow their lead.