I Don’t Do Lines

Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 9.16.47 AMI’ve come to the conclusion that life is about lines. There are so many lines in this world. Grocery lines, bank lines, lines of cocaine. Even virtual lines—printer cues, website holds, and “You’re next in line for customer service” on chat. “Next” always seems the longest place in line.

Screen Shot 2014-02-23 at 9.29.49 AMLines define people. In foreign countries you can pay people to wait in lines for you. Here, if you pay a little extra, you can skip lines entirely or they’ll create an “elite” line just for you. If you make way too much money you can snort lines, and if you’re just a normal person like me, you wait in lines. And wait again. And when you are done waiting, you find another line to wait in.

Sometimes I pick the longest line, just because I know it’s my station in life.

Now, I am waiting in line at the airline kiosk. My boarding pass won’t come up.

“Um, I don’t know,” says the girl at the counter. The person at the end of the line is supposed to know. It’s why we wait in lines.

“Can you wait in that line, please?” The big line. I don’t want to go. If I complain, she’ll send me to the Really Big Line way over there. I have a flight to catch.

Never piss off someone who’s whole function in life is processing lines. I look at my watch. I don’t mind a line when I know the end result’s something cool–groceries, a cup of coffee. I connect with people around me in the line. But now, the only thing I want to connect with is a plane. Airport lines are a mystery. No guarantees. Will they let me on the plane? Or will there be some “problem.”

Cancelled. Delayed. Out to lunch. On vacation.

Interesting, isn’t it, that airlines can change everything, but if I do, “That’ll be five hundred dollars, please.” or “Would you like to pay an extra $31 to skip the line?”

I wait in three lines and discover that my airline isn’t my airline at all. They’re merging. I must wait in another airline’s line. Three terminals away. “Not far,” says the linemaster. She must be a distance runner. I run, hike, and roll luggage the mile to the other terminal. Quickly, because I fear that line will send me to another line.

I wait in line for my boarding pass and get directed to the next line.

The line that for looks through my computer and my shoes. The line for the proctology exam and pat down. The line with the lady who looks at my boarding pass and asks me my name to make sure I memorized it correctly. And the line with the guy that tries to get my stuff off the belt as it topples on me while I get dressed in public.

Finally the coffee line. It’s the only one I wanted.

Last of all, the line at the gate, behind the “elite” people who paid $31 extra to skip the line. I smile. I get on the plane last.

It takes off. Waiting to bring me to the next airport. Which, no doubt, will be full of lines.

[images: cnn.com and cdn.geardiary.com]

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Drugs Are Illegal. Reform’s Scary. Coffee Fixes the World.

Screen Shot 2014-02-18 at 4.45.17 PMI want to have coffee with a friend. We struggle to squeeze it in.

“How about two Fridays from now?” Why can’t we get our calendars to stop fighting so we can drink coffee? Eventually, one calendar wins. Coffee arrives.

What starts as coffee with a good friend ends as vision. Always does. Soon, note pads, pens, Macs, iPhones and iPads clutter the table, pushing our freakishly healthy foods aside.

Usually when two or more teachers are in the room, venting begins. Bitching even. Everyone opens the valve a little. My husband doesn’t understand this. He wonders why teachers bitch. He hates it. He won’t go to “teacher things.”

“It’s not bitching,” I explain, “It’s ‘looking for solutions.'” Sure, there are People Who Bitch. They’re the ones speaking negatively about others–students, colleagues, and leadership. When good teachers gather, it’s not bitching. It’s seeking answers for real problems. When the fixes are out of reach, there’s frustration. Especially when frustration takes good people down.

“I’ll never go back into the classroom,” I hear it more and more. “I can’t do all this testing and stuff.” People go into leadership, guidance, or whatever because, they say, they’re “done with the classroom.” Others–good people–jump into those roles to save the world, finding windmills to fight on that side of the fence, too.

“This isn’t for me. I’m no good. Didn’t realize it would be this way–I wanted to change lives, not tabulate test scores.” That was roughly the quote I got from someone leaving the profession–literally, box in hand. Midyear.

Good teachers fear tests and evals. Sure, accountability’s in every profession. Can we do it better though? I heard Steve Blank talk at last year’s Business Innovation Factory conference. “Fire the idea, not the person,” he said.

Steve Blank is a pretty smart guy. As one of Forbes Magazine’s “30 Most Influential People in Tech,” he’s not only written textbooks on how startups should be created and grown, he even changed the way the National Science Foundation spends money to align with the systems of successful entrepreneurs–systems he invented.

Anyone who changes the way government spends money has the ear of this lowly teacher.

His thoughts were simple. Sometimes you need to fire the idea, not the person, he said. Run the numbers without blame. Then fix the problems.

Getting rid of judgment helps people be objective and take risks. Risks produce results. Taking risks in education can get a person low scores, though, so there’s fear.

Fear about things real or imagined shuts good people down.

Fear does not produce vision.

Fear is conquered by vision.

Vision, luckily, is found in a cup of coffee with a friend. It pours out our hearts into the vortices swirling throughout the mugs into reality. All the little things mixing and colliding in the swirls…that’s the vision. Every sip, gulp, cup waiting for a sip–vision. Leaving the cup on the counter to go cold is missing the possibilities–so easy to do when rushing around. Steam goes uncaptured into the universe. Vision lost.

But sitting with my friend, vision pushes aside inconsequential girl talk. It says things like, “Sounds like you might consider,” and “That happens to me. I’ve tried…” or “I notice you write a lot about this, but I’d really like to read it if you wrote this…” or “I’d buy that idea…”

Every single time I meet Vision Friend, I leave with a dozen working plans. On a good day, I have pages of notes. On a crazy day, we’ve got blogs, businesses, books, and concepts racing around the room trying to get to the finish line first so we might convert them to reality.

Vision conquers fear. And accountability defeats complacency. Inaction. Inertia. This is why vision needs company. It needs someone to say, “Hey, you told me you were going to….how’s that going?”

Otherwise, we’re tempted to “forget” we promised to do something, and vision dies. Vision often requires courage, support, and the swirly things in a cup of coffee to produce results. Follow-through. Reality.

I know vision’s in the room when my heart leaps just a bit and the notepad comes out. The more I surround myself with friends who make my heart leap just a bit and pages fill on notepad, the better I become. I want to be better. And I want to make other people feel that they are better for having known me.

It’s a simple goal. One I hope I can meet. I think I can, if I have just one more cup of coffee…with my good friend.

Notes: 

My “vision” friend, Alicia, blogs here: WriteSolutions under the tag “Student Learning Is No Accident.”

Buy Donuts: Kids Hate Flaxseed Muffins

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 8.00.16 PMAs it happens, I was too lazy to make flaxseed muffins.

Our advisory has breakfast on Fridays. We take turns bringing in “food,” a.k.a donuts. I make jokes that there’s no police academy nearby, eat healthy food. I promise vats of scotch-oats or flaxseed muffins when it’s my turn. But, as adults wearing many hats are wont to do, I got lazy. I sat on my organic food-loving behind. I didn’t make flaxseed muffins.

I decided I to give my customers what they want. Donuts.

Screen Shot 2014-02-15 at 7.58.18 PM“A dozen donuts, please, and a large coffee.” Donut man disappeared to bake each of the 12 donuts I requested. Or perhaps he had to finish growing and grinding the wheat. The man behind me in line began to shift his weight and the woman behind him looked at her watch. Twice. Because the person behind the counter moves just a little bit faster when you look twice.

I felt bad. There are days I’m the one checking the watch twice and the person in front of me, who seems to have a simple order, is ordering 27 different things all specially crafted and custom grown.

I shouldn’t go out for coffee when I’m running late. It’s the universe telling me to be patient. Or drink less coffee. Or leave earlier. Or to stop being a jerk.

But I use it as exercise in meditation and peace. As Donut Man mixed the batter for my last donut, I began to feel guilty. Both about feeding my students crap, and for holding up the great American workforce.

“Sorry to be that idiot ordering eighty-five things when you’re running late for work.” The woman looked up. I explained. “I’m getting my class donuts. I wanted to bake them flaxseed muffins. Healthier.”

She smiled–said how good those muffins would’ve been and kids need more people who care. I didn’t think I cared very much, feeding them processed flour and sugar before six other people had to teach them. I thanked her anyway.

“I remember those years,” she told me. “My daughter’s a teacher now. I remember the only time we knew what was going on with each other was during family dinner. We stopped everything. No phones. We had dinner and asked how each other’s day was. Too many families have to rush, work, and kids pop things in microwave. That’s why they eat poorly.”

I was about to say that they eat poorly because they have teachers who feed them donuts, but now I’m feeling guiltier that I don’t have enough sit down family dinners than I am about the donuts. We used to sit down to dinner together, too, with no phones. Cell phones weren’t invented, and no friends would dare call during The Dinner Hour. But then high school came and everyone went their own way for activities.

By then, microwaves had been invented. And so we, too, popped something in. Had I known how cutting edge we were, both on the microwave front and in destroying the family dinner, I might’ve been proud. Instead, I turned out to be an adult who taught kids it was okay to have donuts for breakfast.

Instead of caving to the guilt, I finished my conversation, thanked Donut Guy for the donuts and coffee thoughtfully prepared, and wished watch lady a great Friday. I was glad for the pleasant conversation. I left with a smile, entered my car with a smile, and entered class–with a smile. And donuts. It was nice connecting in the middle of the pre-work rush.

Sometimes all we need is a connection. A smile that says, “I’m glad you’re here” instead of rushing around in life. It makes a difference. Connecting is the magic that holds the universe together. Sometimes I forget–whether it’s a family dinner, a group of kids grateful for someone who cared enough to pollute them with donuts, or a smile in the coffee line, but it’s the critical glue. Without glue, things fall apart.

[images: cakechooser.com and nurturing-nutrition.com]

Intercar Communication Tames Rhode Island

According to Time Tech, the federal government is deciding whether new cars can be equipped with transponders which will tell other cars their position. They may do things like alert other drivers or possibly even interact with the breaking systems of fellow drivers causing them to slow or stop to avoid accidents. Experts estimate that these advanced systems may reduce accidents by up to 8%.

Screen Shot 2014-02-03 at 7.22.53 PMThis may be a good thing for Rhode Islanders, who have long-held the honor of being the worst drivers in the nation. Imagine, every time we swerve toward another car in traffic or cut across two lanes with no spaces, all the other cars could automatically jack up and leave us the room we need.

Also, when another car comes dangerously close, loud alarms would be helpful. I’d learn to obey alarms such as Amber Alerts without spilling my coffee–the only thing Rhode Islanders are permitted to drink and drive–all over the upholstery. I need to be impervious to distraction to hone in on my Rhode Island driving skills because I’m not from these parts. You can tell the true Rhode Islanders because they drink Dunkin Donuts iced coffee even when it’s 20 below. My coffee–you’ll see upon investigation–is always hot, and often homebrew. An outsider. I digress.

This technology can do more. Even more than simple transponders, it could be effective as an advanced intercar communicator. I’d call the upgrade the FU model. This would interface with the dashboard video screens, sending thank you texts to courteous drivers, and have a built-in button for the Rhode Island salute just like Waze has for police and obstructions. I could send Rhode Island’s favorite finger to indicate “You’re an idiot,” to those who park six inches from my driver’s door in a perfectly empty lot, and could compliment the politicians and important people who all keep the really low license plate numbers–just like their offices–for generations at a time.

I’d want an automatic warning for things like “Teen driver,” or “Driver over 80,” or “Driver doing makeup.” You might think Rhode Island doesn’t need car-to-car communication. After all, the state’s not that big–usually opening up a window will do. But I think these things would be helpful. I’m tired of Nader bars and child restraints I can’t buckle without the right combination of swears. Give me something I can use.

I’d be grateful.

[image: barrington.patch.com]

Bad Mom Ruins Elementary Christmas

I’m an urban secondary educator who’s moved out to the sticks. Although I grew up in a small town, Christmas changes from location to location. Things definitely aren’t the same in the city.

I got Christmas all wrong.

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What I wanted to give as gifts…What they deserved…

I knew I must get something for Declan’s teacher, the saint who calligraphies two-paged notes prolifically, ending each with, “But I know tomorrow will be a better day.” I negligently missed the collection the parents organized, but no mere collection could equal the amount of hell Declan’s put that teacher through, so we made something with love and loaded as much caffeine as possible onto a nice coffee card. Everyone in Rhode Island has stock in a Dunkin Donuts, so I figured that’d raise the local economy.  This teacher really deserved a fifth of vodka, but I don’t know if you can get elementary teachers such things–high school teachers perhaps, and college professors, yes, but first grade’s a little early to start drinking. Even for a teacher.

I swung by the local Dunk again because it occurred to me that the bus monitors deserved something, too. From Day One, they had been “working with” Declan on bus manners–Day One being the day they advised him not to be inappropriate, through weeks later when he finally earned his way into Bus Jail, aka “the front seat,” with the monitor.  Since I didn’t think a monogrammed flask would be appropriate for a lady who drives and her partner who’s required to hold up traffic looking for children doing chin-ups on axles while my son Supermans on the top step threatening to fly–they got as much caffeine as is ethical too.

My colleague, who lives in the same town, said, “Did you get something for the reading specialist and the aids?”

No! Nobody told me that. I don’t know these things. We don’t do gifts at the high school. A friend suggested this morning, “We’re lucky not to get the middle finger on the way out!”

Most of my kids are happy customers. If everyone is, they say, I’m doing something wrong. We had a good day, surprise guest in my class, pizza in the cafeteria, and I found a bunch of thank you cards from students in my box on the way out. Made me smile–exactly what I would’ve asked for.

I rushed home to give the monitors their “I-wish-it-were-a-flask” gifts. Declan got off the bus, held up traffic one last time before vacation, and waddled to the door, backpack stuffed with…stuff.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 7.44.40 PMWhat my colleague didn’t tell me about Christmas in the Sticks is that EVERYONE does something for EVERYONE. Declan had gifts, cards, candy, and notes. And I had to go and mess this system up–I didn’t give a crumb too small for a mouse to even a single classmate.

There were a million candy canes each with a bite out of them then he struck gold. “Oh, look, Mom! A RING POP! How did she KNOW I love RING POPS?”

Um, because they’re sticky and make a mess? That equals awesome!

“That was very nice of her.” I wished I’d thought of Ring Pops. Next time.

For now, I’m letting him eat all the candy since I was a bad mom and didn’t send gifts. This way, he’ll only have to brush his teeth once. Later, I’ll plan my strategy so I can absolutely rock Valentine’s Day and really make the bus team earn that caffeine.

 

[images: homewetbar.com and loveitsomuch.com]

One Inspiration at a Time

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Silence is a source of great strength  –Lao Tsu

I write at 4AM. The moments before the birds sing bring me the most peace. My mind clears. Silence reveals the thoughts that drown in the clatters, jangles, and noise of the day. The fire glows, coffee sits to my left, and I think. I am inspired. As I start, I look for one inspiration each day. A quote. A blessing. A thought. Something to think about during the day. Sometimes I share them with a friend.

Today, caffeine is my daily inspiration. Hear me out on this one… After receiving “The List of No” from the doctor, he said “sure” on some caffeine. His colleague had taken it away. I suffered. I suffered a lot–not because I need the drug. I don’t need caffeine to live any more than I need crack or heroin. It’s just that decaf coffee tastes like a cup full of butt and I can’t find one that reminds me of coffee. I love coffee. It starts my thinking each day.

“There’s only so much I can make you suffer,” he said. “You can have some caffeine.”

I forgot to define “some” because my mind, celebrating the victory, was already onto the next negotiation. “I’d like to start running again.”

He gave me the look. He had been clear about the “no activity” mandate. I’ve obeyed, except I do forget things downstairs so I can run up and down the stairs to get them. The smallest exercise protest. Other than that, I obey.I negotiated. I begged.  I said, “You don’t understand. I’ve gone from 7-10 miles to couch instantly. I’m stir crazy. All my friends want your card so they can avoid exercise too.”

“You can go walking.”

“I hate walking. It bores me. I lack focus. I need to run. How about jogging? I’m not that fast anyway.” My jogging reminds people of walking. Semantics.

Hesitation. Slight opening of the mouth. Pause. “No………I don’t think so.” He’s Southern. Bound by law to be polite. “Nothing that gets your heart rate up. You could do stairmaster or elliptical a little if you take it slow.” I hate both of those things. And slow’s never been in my repertory. If exercise doesn’t beat me up, it’s not effective. I’ve run, played basketball, boxed, thrown, fought, done competition weightlifting (never competed–too scrawny) and played all the fast sports. Not well. That’s not the point.

Screen Shot 2013-12-12 at 4.56.13 AMThe one activity that slowed me down–Japanese sword. It was good for me, meditation and inner peace combined with the ability to cut someone’s head off if I trained hard enough–a good combination. Then yoga. But I was highly, highly suspicious of yoga—what good could it do without pain? My friend of Indian lineage made me go on a yoga retreat. How could anyone of Indian lineage steer me wrong on yoga? He said “Experiences are everything,” and that I needed “to get rid of [my] monkey mind.” He was right on both accounts. Yoga centers me.

Yoga doesn’t really raise my heart rate. “How about yoga?” This was turning into a fierce negotiation. I felt the tone. I’d spent years in Career One negotiating with attorneys and body shops. Surely I could defeat one doctor on the issue of physical fitness despite the fact he had more degrees than me.

“Hmmmm…” He’d said a definite no to yoga the first time. But I obeyed his orders not to drop dead for an entire month, taken drug upon drug, and listened to his every command. Surely that gets a reward? “No, I don’t think so. Too much with the neck.” Defeated. Again. That’s when I asked him about caffeine.

He said yes.

Inspiration: Even when the list of “no’s” gets long, if we keep looking, we get one yes. Sometimes we have to look hard for it, not abandon the search. And when we find it, it’s golden;)

My coffee smiles in the mug my friend Kristen made. And it tastes very good.

[Images: Sarah Steenland and Kristen Runvik. Check out their stuff. Their art makes me smile]

Not Dead Yet. But Decaf Is Close

Screen Shot 2013-11-09 at 2.53.48 PM“I have a confession to make,” I said. “I’m drinking decaf coffee.  And it $%^% sucks.” 

Decaf coffee is what doctors sentence a person to when they have no more medical hope or advice for them. “Start drinking decaf.” It means “I’ve gone to 15 extra years of medical school and I have no idea about your problem. I have nothing else to tell you.”

Instead of saying that, they look you right in the eye and say “drink decaf” with a look of conviction as clear as if Jesus Christ himself was staring you down to cure blindness. I’ve been looking for solutions for migraines forever. This past month being particularly hellish, I wound up in the walls of various medical establishments enough that they were quite sick of looking at my “yeah, but that didn’t work” face.  Modern medicine’s supposed to be able to cure anything as long as a person walks in sporting the correct copay. I’ve stumped my good docs though. I feel bad for them–they want to tell me something comforting.

I’m a fairly holistic person. I studied Eastern medicine myself for a couple of years, but never got more than a cursory foundation and deep appreciation. Eventually, though, I migrated to the Motrin and caffeine aisles, and did the best I could as a quasi-western holistic fake with a touch of Eastern poser. 

“I need you to detox,” said the doctor. Detox? Me? I looked over my shoulder thinking we had some kind of cost-saving HMO group appointment. I don’t even drink.

“Excuse me?” Maybe he forgot I’m the one who refuses all narcotics, plants my own herbs for medicinal tea, and grows half of the vegetables I eat until I overplant and the garden attacks me. 

“Detox,” he said. “You’ve been taking far too much of this stuff.” This stuff, apparently, is all the harmless OTC drugs I take to avoid the Big Guns… the things the street corner pharma guys will give me if I simply look like I might cry.  

“Well,” I said, “I found this migraine diet that you add the foods back in one by one until cured…” 

He assured me that a diet of brown rice and fresh beans would get me nowhere. “Detox.” 

So, here I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I confessed to friends that I bought a bag of decaf and now sit with a cup of decaf lotus tea. I’m certain it’s karma. How many times has a waitress asked me “Decaf or regular?” and I replied, “I’m not nearly old enough for decaf.” I’m insulted. Decaf is for people who set their white hair in rollers on the way to bingo. And take the leftover sugar from the packet holder. Do I look like a sugar-stealing roller-setting white-haired early bird special eater? Gosh!

I’m ashamed. I can’t go out to an early dinner again. I’ll have to look at Everywaitress in the eye. She’ll be thinking, “Here’s a coupon. The special ends at 4:30.” 

And in the mean time, I wonder how much time I wasted in life–taking care of myself, being healthy, exercising, growing my own organic food, avoiding drugs and alcohol. All garbage. None of it worked. I’ll need a new strategy…The most I can do is get up and have the balls to buy myself a bag of good old processed food filled with MSG and eat it every day until I cure myself. And then go to several parties drug seeking like an A-list Hollywood actor with twenty lives.

But instead, I sit here, obedient. Drinking decaf coffee and lotus tea. Waiting for my hair to turn white and someone to pass the rollers.  

Alas. It’s almost four. Time to leave for the blue plate special. 

 

[image: http://www.ineedcoffee.com/99/decaf/}