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Poetry, toxic cultures, being true, and YOU

20 Feb

The following is sort of an open letter to schools in transition and teachers so tired of constant improvement talk…so tired of it that they nod “yes” in meetings with no intention of contributing.

Thanks, in advance…

Part 1 Poetry
“Hope” is the thing with feathers – (314)

Related Poem Content Details

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
I loved teaching this poem when I was in the classroom. Hope is always there, deep inside, singing to you even when you’re not listening. Hope is never not there for you. Hope is constant in all of us, regardless of the storm. We hope our day goes well. We hope our kids are well. We hope our family is well. We hope love and happiness warm our cheek. We hope the weather is nice. We hope our team wins. We hope for so many things, and yet, hope never asks anything from us. We never have to feed it, or sacrifice for it, or even thank it. Hope is always there when we need something.
Or, is it want? I think it’s time to have a talk about need vs. want in terms of improving our school. I think it’s time to reconsider each person’s responsibility in terms of contribution. Certainly, none of you “need” to feel the responsibility of school improvement is yours. Yet, I think you’d all agree that students “need” a good education which requires a high level of commitment to best practices. Certainly, not all of you “want” to contribute to school improvement. Yet, you’d all agree the school can’t improve if we’re not all contributing. So? What is this Mr. Lee is talking about?
We know what we “need” and we know what we “want”, yet we can’t seem to come to a collective agreement about actually doing it. What does that mean? Schools are no longer inspected on individual classrooms. We no longer work in private classrooms where we can lock out the bad habits of others around us. Schools are rated as organizations, as singular institutions. So, we cannot afford to behave as if that problem down the hall isn’t our concern. If it’s happening in our school, it’s our concern. We don’t feel a collective purpose right now. This lack of commitment to the stated collective purpose, this teaching in our own private bubbles, and not supporting each other is a mixture for a toxic school culture.
Part 2 Toxic Cultures
How does that work? Try to recall conversations from the last few staff meetings, or even sitting in the staff room, or standing at supervision. Who was the first to say something negative? You or your colleague? Then what was the next contribution? Did you agree and add on, or did you offer something positive or mention what works for you? When someone mentions “these kids”, what is your reaction? Do you agree and add on, or do you offer something positive? When someone mentions classroom discipline, do you mention what works for you or do you blame it on the kids, the supervisor, or administration?
You see, in a toxic culture, each person participating in it is an expert at describing how bad things are, and then deflecting the reasons why on someone or something else. “It’s the owners’ fault, they took anyone…it’s the Admin’s fault, they don’t do anything about it…it’s these kids, they’re spoiled…it’s tv, cell phones, music…” Finally, we all agree that we have described the problem accurately, and we have pinned it on someone or something else. This, my friends, is a toxic culture…and a failure of a conversation.
Part 3 Being True
What is your part in this? Are you participating in it? Are you contributing to a negativity that takes away from what we “want” and from what the students “need”? Do you say one thing to your colleagues and administrators in meetings, and then betray that information later? If so, you are contributing to the toxic culture, and in order for our students to get what they “need”, and for this school and your colleagues to get what they “want”, then you must consider one of two things:
                       1. Change your talk and contribute positively.
                          OR
                       2. Resign, and stop holding the students and your colleagues back.
Yes, I’m serious. If you are unhappy and not changing any of what you’re doing, then what are you doing? There is no “hoping” things get better.
Either WE do it together, or it doesn’t get accomplished. In a healthy school, you cannot hide amongst your colleagues and contribute negatively, or nothing. A school is a collective that is judged as a singular organization. So, if one of us is a poor professional, that affects all of us. Casting blame at others in the building may make you feel better during that conversation, but it does absolutely no good for the school.
What is our collective purpose? Think for a second. What have we talked about? We “need” to move to the next level or we will lose this school. We have looked at what that takes. YOU are directly involved in improving this school. If you’re not, then please find a place where you can contribute. Social Scientist Dan Pink broke down what drives motivation into three needs (none of which are money, by the way). 1. Autonomy-the desire to direct your own life. What could be better? If you’re here and you feel trapped, or so stagnant you can’t change, then you are not autonomous, and you will not be motivated to work. What could be more autonomous than teaching? Yes, we have a curriculum, but you can teach it any way you like. Get creative, be autonomous with it. 2. Mastery-the ability to improve at something that matters every day. Teaching is the ultimate opportunity for mastery. You can learn and teach at the same time every darn day! If you haven’t changed your teaching methodology at all this year, then you aren’t practicing mastery…and, I’d bet you’re as bored as your students are. 3. Purpose-people want to be part of something bigger than them, something that really matters. Honestly, does this need any more explanation? What job has more purpose than teaching? If you don’t feel that way about teaching, you should step back and find what really does matter to you.
If these three don’t apply to you, are you being true to yourself? Are YOU giving yourself what YOU “need”? Are you being true to the students sitting in front of you every day? Are you giving them what they “need”, and what the school “wants”? Are you directing yourself (Autonomy)? Are you improving (Mastery)? Are you contributing to something bigger than yourself (Purpose)? Reread these questions. Go ahead, do it. Think about your answers. Are you being true to yourself, your colleagues, and to your profession, your school?
Part 4 YOU
Well…you made it. As a professional and a human, that’s a lot to think about. It’s good to have and acknowledge hope, but it’s just a pretty song, not an action. Take action! Are you a participant in making the culture toxic, or do you make people think twice when airing negativity or complaining? Rather than adding on to a complaint or deflecting blame, why not hold yourself accountable for a solution? Why not collect others who feel the same and create a solution? This is the very nature of  School Development Plan Teams. Be the solution, or stop getting in the way. It’s not right.
Lastly, YOU. Who are you in all of this? Can you step outside yourself and watch what you’re contributing with a sense of satisfaction? Are you the teacher you wanted to be? What’s holding you back? Are you being true and original? Do yourself a favor. Look in the mirror, look into your eyes, are you being true to you? If you “want” to have a good time teaching, what do you “need” to do?
As always, my door is open. I watch you very closely. It’s my job. Let’s talk.
Peace and love,
Lee
No CFU this time…though feedback is always welcome.

Yoga, Wheel Alignment, Stuckness, & Parenting part 1

19 Sep

Ricky’s Theme-The Beastie Boys, As Daylight Dies-Killswitch Engage, Oblivion-Maastodon, Another Brick in the Wall Pt. !-Pink Floyd, Where it’s At-Beck, In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth:3-Coheed & Cambria, 100% Dundee-The Roots, Paint It Black-The Rolling Stones, Don’t Follow Me-Cody Chestnutt, How Heavy This Axe-The Sword, No Surprises-Radiohead, Tight Brain-Dig, Set Phasers to Stun-Taking Back Sunday, Heard it on The X-ZZ Top, Battlestar Scralatchtica-Incubus, Shameless Little Monkeys-Crash Kings, Worry-Public Image Ltd., Cult of Personality-Living Colour, R-Evolve-30 Seconds to Mars, Hummer-Smashing Pumpkins, Red Barchetta-Rush, Tearjerker-Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pride and Joy-Marvin Gaye, Solomon’s Gold-Mr. Blotto, Lullaby-The Cure, Shadow-SOJA, Yes I Will-Michael Franti & Spearhead, Hello Like Before-Bill Withers, Temptation-New Order, Round and Round Remix 9-Jonell, Method Man, Kool G Rap, & Pharoah Monche, Too Fast for You-The Church, New Slang-The Shins, Come on Back-The Freddy Jones Band, Don’t Owe You a Thang-Gary Clarke Jr., Listening Wind-Talking Heads, A Beautiful Lie-30 Seconds to Mars, Wonder (Live)-Freddy Jones Band, House Rent Boogie-John Lee Hooker, Hard as Stone-The Steepwater Band, Bombtrack-Rage Against the Machine, Hot Sex-A Tribe Called Quest, The Show Must Go On-Pink Floyd, One Rainy Wish-Jimi Hendrix, Blank-Galactic Cowboys, Big Me-Foo Fighters

Hi...I know...it's been a while. Welcome Back!

Hi…I know…it’s been a while. Welcome Back!

Ok, Hi! Yes, it certainly has been a while.

Two Things:

  1. One of my best buddies in the world told me my blogs are too long to keep his attention. Jimmy, this two-parter is for you.
  2. I once had a writing professor who told me that writers often throw away their best material and keep their “shite”. A comment I immediately dismissed because he wasn’t British, and his using “shite” sounded stupid. So, to Professor Anglophile, “Bollocks to you, ya minger, and Bob’s your uncle!”

I’m going to split this blog in two…frankly, if I don’t you may perish in the middle of this endurance test across the Desert of Stuckness and Solution. Bring water, or wine, or a double IPA (which I would KILL for—someone get me a craft beer! How do hipsters survive here? No flannel, no craft beer, no Pabst Blue Ribbon, and no clove cigarettes!)

My ever failing attempt to get a good picture of the sunrise while traveling at 120kms per hour.

My ever failing attempt to get a good picture of the sunrise while traveling at 120kms per hour.

SO! First! Before I drop my excuse for not writing these last few months let me tell you why the universe provides for you IF you allow it. This is crazy cool! Two quick real life stories.

Story #1 Saved by the Yoga Bell

It is no secret that my personal life has been…ummm…challenging the last few years. Big changes, lots to learn, so much growth it often hurts like that heartburn-eye squinty-headache-tightness in your chest-lump in your throat-strained neck and shoulders thing…you know, life pains. Things have been going better, but sometimes when you connect with part of that past, the wounds reopen. Especially, when you learn things you didn’t know and it’s causing new turmoil. I hope that is vague enough, and clear enough at the same time. Either way, it’s enough for what follows.

Two days ago I received more new bad news about something I thought had been settled. It drove me crazy all through the work day and into the evening. Needless to say, I had a hard time focusing at work. I even shut my office door (which I very rarely ever do) for 20 frequently interrupted minutes to “think” it out. Yeah, did not work.

Just outside my office window...always.

Just outside my office window…always.

A large part of my return to physical and mental health, has been Yoga and meditation. Sunday night is my hour long Yoga core strength class. I mostly love it, except when the Ashtanga punisher teaches. (Balance this, lady…I kid, I kid… :l) I can do yoga at home all week, but the class dynamic and having a teacher, or two, live in front of you really helps.

I didn’t want to go because, darn it, I was going to pace and argue with myself about something I could do nothing about. Maybe, I’d punch a pillow or get angry and stub my toe while pacing futilely. I had big plans to ignore every piece of advice the Serenity Prayer has to offer. Thankfully, I decided to go.

They know how to do their parks in the Dhabi!

They know how to do their parks in the Dhabi!

As I sat on my mat in the crowded, candle lit room listening to “soothing” sitar music, I waited for class to start. It was the largest group I’ve seen. Good, I can hide. Of course I was obsessing about my bad day in that dangerous neighborhood known as my head. Suddenly, the teacher approached me. “Lee would you demo tonight? My wrist is injured, there are some new people here, and I’ll need someone to show them the sun salutation vinyasa flow.”

Ya know? I just blurted “yes”. No thought control, just immediate yes. If I could have shot myself a look it would have been to say, “Heeeeyyy….Hellllooooowwww! This is your Desire-to-stay-in-the-past speaking! We’re obsessing here, there’s no time for that!”

I moved to the front of the class, dead in front of the mirror I neurotically avoid, and sat padmasana (almost), facing a sea of waiting faces. Crazy. Totally out of my comfort zone, and I had propelled myself into it without thought. What was driving this? Had I thought about it more, I could have come up with perfectly logical reasons to say “no”. “Ya know, Sasha, this is soooooo crazy, I hurt my wrist, uhhhh, ummmm, jogging…yeah, jogging.” I didn’t, though. Thankfully. Somewhere, somehow, a rescued-by-faith decision occurred. That’s all I can figure.

It was the best class I’ve ever had, not because I’m good at yoga (my crow is really just a set up for the inevitable face plant—every time. My tree is a nervous bush in gale force winds.), but I learned the real reason for focusing during yoga. Through the breathing, the flow, the concentration, and being tuned in with the class and our awesome teacher, I was restored. I felt lighter than when I began.

This is me doing a really poor triangle pose way back in May. We yoga'd under the full moon (that's not the actual moon behind us). #reluctant yogamodel

This is Kristina & me doing a really poor triangle pose way back in May. We yoga’d under the full moon (that’s not the actual moon behind us). After 8 months of yoga I feel stronger and my balance is so much better. #reluctantyogamodel

Why? How does that happen? I walk in there, same as every week, totally preoccupied, half-looking forward to yoga-ing in my dark corner (physically and mentally), and suddenly I’m in a situation where I must devote my concentration fully to my health (physically and mentally).

My blurtestation (Hey new readers, I make up words. You understand.) of “yes” was me giving myself over to something else, something bigger, a better purpose than what I was fulfilling at the time. Wanna be practical? Ok, I was serving the class. I offered my knowledge to the class. Wanna be spiritual? Through serving others, I served myself. The expression of love through yoga for myself, informed the class, and healed me. Lumpy throat. Sorry. I am grateful for everything I learn. Everyday.

“Yoga is…useful to learn how to be in a tough place, and be really relaxed.” Quote from the Documentary film “Yoga is…” I’d add…and to be strong, as well.

Eye-opening…really. We can restore ourselves, if we are open to the contributions from the universe.

The moon one morning. Pretty.

The moon one morning. Pretty.

Story #2 Mussafah! I apologize!

I’ve been dreading getting new tires and rotors and brake pads for Brown Sugar (my intrepid Toyota Land Cruiser). Why?

Brown Sugar with her new shoes.

Brown Sugar with her new shoes.

A: It’s not always easy in the Dhabi, and my local mechanic doesn’t speak English. Well, he kinda does. I say shock absorber, he says “jumper”. So, at times we don’t communicate well. Trying to charade in English why I think I need new rotors and pads for the third time gets…embarrassing. A six foot one, well fed man, drenched in sweat in a suit and tie, standing on one foot to show I’m braking, and shimmying like a drunk hula hoop mime. Not pretty…and I’m pretty sure his employees speak English, but would rather watch me do the sweaty dance.

B. Money. Of course it’s expensive. At a local Service Station (yes, Midwest America they still exist—they pump your gas, wash your windows, and smile…crazy way to employ more people, huh?), I was quoted around $1700 (that’s about 6000 dirhams, which is a shocker) for tires and parts…not labor. So, there’s some mental preparation for that. He looked at one wheel and spit out that number so I thought, “Forgive me, Arnav, if I seek a second opinion…uh, buh bye!”

C: The best place for this kind of work is not under the bright lights, glitter, and rich Oud scented air of Abu Dhabi Island. (Yes, it’s an island—water and stuff—geez, I can’t teach geography, too! Google, after this, please.) No, the best place to get the best prices, and the best workmanship is the much maligned, traffic and trash infested, scent of a hot wet swampy sock filled with bleu cheese that lies in the sun scaring away even the hungriest of varmint and parasite, Industrial City. Yes, my new favorite place: Mussafah! OK, so in past blogs I’ve used a little poetic license to get some cheap laughs at the expense of Mussafah. Forgive me, Mussaphans, I knew not of what I spoke.

That Camaro was not happy when the guy in the rental rubbed his from right wheel well and quarter panel. Too may cars for one spot. Ho-hum another night in Mussafah.

That Camaro was not happy when the guy in the rental rubbed his from right wheel well and quarter panel. Too may cars for one spot. Ho-hum another night in Mussafah.

So, I bounced that first estimate off one of my Emirati friends. He sighed this exasperated sigh. I thought he was going to (get up on a stool) and pat me on the head (Ali is a wee shorter than me.), as if to say, “Silly expat, everyone knows you don’t get your car fixed on the island”.

131

Ali trying to soften me up with fresh dates…no fresh, like off the tree that day fresh.

Mind you, this is at school. So Ali, who has two classes left to teach that day says, “Go Mussafah now! I get good price for Mr. Lee.” After spending 15 minutes trying to explain to a local, who speaks very little English, why the only administrator in the building can’t make an impromptu trip to get his car worked on during the middle of a work day, he disappointingly relented. Oh yeah, he couldn’t leave, either. That’s how I see it. The Arabic teachers, not so much. A car appointment (which you don’t really make—I don’t think they know I know that) is treated with the reverence of seeing a specialist at the Mayo Clinic.

We agreed to go at night. After all, Mussafah is much prettier, and even busier, at night. It is where ALL, as in EVERY ONE OF THEM, the locals go for vehicular entertainment. The sirens of the car accidents light the sky, the leaking fluids from multiple rear end crashes glisten on the humid roadway, the exhaust smog casts magical stripes across the moon, and the night breeze blows the heavily scented air by you in waves of reality. Ahhhh, Mussafah…ack ack…lovely.

Ali and his apprentice negotiating like bosses in Mussafah. (Ali asked to stand on the running board for the pic.)

Ali and his apprentice negotiating like bosses in Mussafah. (Ali asked to stand on the running board for the pic.)

I’ll skip the driving around and listening to him get fake angry at the prices we were quoted as he’d turn and wink at me. Finally, we settle at a place. They put on brand new tires (for road and sand!), re-align the wheels and camber, and tighten the tie rods. The truck runs so smoothly, it feels new. No need for rotors or pads. Ummm, yeah, I knew that…

Sonar alignment...very cool.

Sonar alignment…very cool.

Ali steps away during the alignment process to speak to one of his wives (again people, it’s cultural, Google! Hello?). During that time I agree to an extra charge because the wheels are so out of whack. Basically, an extra $50, which seems reasonable considering I’m saving so much money. As I go to pay, Ali grabs my hand and forces it back into my pocket and with obvious disgust starts in on the innocent guy behind the counter with a tirade of Arabic that would shame any angry Hispanic woman. Something about the kandoora; once donned, it’s as if they feel a real superpower of persuasion, regardless of how far off the spectrum of logic the argument might be. It is a true belief in who they are. It is the national dress and, despite its intended humility, it is powerful. It also makes it kinda tough identify a particular guy in a crowd.

The sales manager, a large Syrian sweating out of his Rip Curl cholo shirt and dickies shorts (longs, really) with a gelled, spiky flat top, who quoted the price returns to the shop. He sees Ali yelling at anyone who will listen (employee or not). Ali is gesturing at me, and waiving his hands up and down at me like a game show presenter model nervous on her first day. Afraid of embarrassing him, I tell Ali I knew about the price. I agreed to it. He looks at me like a father trying to sneak a 16 year old into an amusement park for an “under 12” price. Little Ali and Large Yousef argue somewhat politely for about 15 minutes.

Here’s how it ends. Yousef, who speaks English very well explains to me that yes, he and I agreed on the higher price, but Ali explained to him that I am a good man who deserves to be treated like a brother. That I always treat Ali and his friends like a brother. Because Ali and Yousef are brothers, according to their religious beliefs, and Ali is my brother because he loves me (his words—flattering), then Yousef is my brother, too. Since he would always give his brother the discount; it’s the right thing to do. I tried to explain to Ali that I agreed on the price, and then Yousef stopped me. He said, “My friend, this man wants you to be treated the best. I can see how much he means it. Because of this, I give the discount with no problem or regret. You are my brother, too.”

Touched, even now as I recall it. For all the pomp and yelling, and banter, the sincerity between the men of so many different countries here is impressive. There is a hierarchy with the Emiratis at the top, but there is also an understanding among these men. They don’t need to be reminded, it is automatic.

I saved $1200. I learned so much more.

The universe takes care of you, if you’re willing to let it. Period.

Love these. There are lines of help, everywhere. You must be open to them.

Love these. There are lines of help, everywhere. You must be open to them.

Ok…so, where exactly have I been?

Here’s what happens…life! That’s no excuse or copout. Life just happens. For me, I observe and participate and spend time in my head (all gurus would say way too much), and I get ideas for writing, but then I don’t sit down and do it. Then, this pile of ideas becomes a mountain, a scene in the distance. The colors and chutes and faces of the mountain look like trees, or clearings, or jagged rock, but there is no detail in your view…just a mountain.

The mountains in Fujairah. A truly beautiful place about 2 1/2 hours away. Beautiful from afar, treacherous up close...read on.

The mountains in Fujairah. A truly beautiful place about 2 1/2 hours away. Beautiful from afar, treacherous up close…read on.

The problem is…it’s your mountain (mine in this case), and it always seems easier to approach someone else’s mountain than it does your own. Why? Duh! You know what’s in your mountain. You can’t be objective and rational with your mountain. Objective and rational with someone else’s mountain is much easier than dealing with your subjective mountain. When you self-talk about the ideas in your mountain, your sentences are full of the word “but”. “Hmmm, I really need to talk about this, buuuuut…what will people think, but is it interesting, but do I really want to explore that, or but does anyone really care about the difference between a Wendy’s Frosty and a chocolate shake?” (By the way, a Frosty is NOT a shake and NEVER try me on this. EVER!)

See what I mean? Those ideas full of detail, start to blur for a lack of objectivity. The more you amass them, the less definition they have, and that mountain seems much more beautiful, or manageable, from afar. Most do, right? How many pictures of a mountain close up do you own? You don’t! That’s a picture of a rock or a tree branch. Big pictures can be beautiful (or they can be ignored); details can get messy.

The Guardian of our campground in Fujairah. Do you see the face?

The Guardian of our campground in Fujairah. Do you see the face?

The reason you started that little pile in the first place is because you were stuck on what to do with your idea. That idea has details. Details seem synonymous with problems, work, and tedium. So, chuck that “oh yeah” idea under the bed, put that “I can’t believe this just occurred to me thought” in one of your three journals (yeah yeah, I have three…No! I don’t know why. Seemed like a good idea at the time.), or put that waking revelation in the voice files on your phone…yeah, that’s smart! It will always be with you, you can revisit it, and you look cool recording it. Smart guy…smart phone. Not really.

Anyway, as you stockpile your ideas you get further from the original inspiration. Walt freakin’ Whitman wrote about leaves, yes LEAVES of grass. Imagine the focus that idea took at the beginning. Sure, he expanded to include…well, everything, but the grasping of the idea is amazing.

So, you have these scattered ideas and notes (digital and otherwise) cluttering your life and your brain. There is no organizing principle. Well, that’s not true. YOU are the organizing principal (See what I did there? I’m a Principal…dork.)

Then, one day, it comes to you. You already know about stuckness. You read about it years ago. You understand how necessary it is. You know that stuckness is the goal of Zen masters. It’s the stopping on a thought and staying there. You also know how hard it is.

So, I went to the source of the revelation. Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. I’ve taken that book everywhere I’ve ever gone for the last 25 years. Why didn’t I think of this months ago? I picked it up, flipped right to the chapter (24) that involves stuckness and found all my familiar underlining. Then, there it is, and you make the face that Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider) makes the first time he sees the shark. (Ya know WE call the shark “Jaws”, they call it “the shark”.)

The Novel! The Chataqua. The Continuous Teacher.

The Novel! The Chataqua. The Continuous Teacher.

“…stuckness is bound to disappear. Your mind will naturally and freely move toward a solution…Stuckness shouldn’t be avoided, it is the physic predecessor of all understanding.” p.257

Voila. I have been so stuck, that I stepped away from it. When I examined the stuckness, the solution appeared. So, here I am writing my blog. I tell ya…this brain thing. Someone should study it…Stuckness isn’t bad. It’s your mind telling you to keep thinking about this issue. You have the answer, you just might be looking at it from a traditional angle that can’t fix your stuckness. Keep trying.

That’s why I haven’t written. I was stuck. Something had me stuck. That something, is the next and TOTALLY different part of today’s blog. The very obstacle that blinded me from progress, I had already worked out. I’ve already written it, but you’ve never seen it. So, I’m taking a huge leap of faith here, and I’m going to bare a pretty large portion of my soul, and present you with:

A Loving Parent’s Open Letter…That’s part 2…coming soon. Enjoy your day….here’s something to think about

Change...put your hand up. Get involved with what you want to change.

Change…put your hand up. Get involved with what you want to change.

Everyday a New Day, School Improvement is Real, or Life is Ordinary; add some Extra.

6 Mar

(No Playlist this month…I’ll reinstate it, if you’re interested  Please enjoy!)

If I could be the leaves, then like jade I would stay evergreen

and Spread my limbs out wide and pull love so close to me

and If I could be the roots, I would dig deep like ancestry

and If I were the fruits, you’d make the sweetest cherry pie from me

and If I could be the night, my moon replace all electric lights

and Magic music would transmit from outer space on satellites
If I myself could be the ocean, you would feel the motion all the time

and If I were the words, then everything that everybody said would rhyme

Michael Franti – What I Be

Too many shadows in my room
Too many hours in this midnight
Too many corners in my mind
So much to do to set my heart right

Oh, it’s taking so long
I could be wrong, I could be ready
Oh but if I take my heart’s advice
I should assume it’s still unsteady
I am in repair, I am in repair
John Mayer – In Repair

Through excessive reliance on thinking, reality becomes fragmented.” Eckhart Tolle

So much contradiction in my day today, I don’t know where to start. (Can’tcha tell from the lyrical selections? Hey, it’s been an interesting day. Gotta love that!)

Typical Day in Mista Lee's office.

Typical Day in Mista Lee’s office.

See! PLCs are fun!

See! PLCs are fun!

I am writing on 14 February (that’s how long I’ve been in The Dhabi, I’m inverting dates), Valentine’s Day. I woke up with a sadness. Normally, I spend the day, or night, with my girls. We cook their favorite meals, pick up a few bottles of bubbly (sparkling grape juice) and have a “date night”. I love it. I miss it. I miss them. I love them.

I love the architecture here. This is the pool at the Intercontinental in Chicago. I stayed there with my daughters over winter break for a Christmas shopping trip.

I love the architecture here. This is the pool at the Intercontinental in Chicago. I stayed there with my daughters over winter break for a Christmas shopping trip.

The John Mayer lyrics came to me before I even turned on my music this morning. There were shadows in my room, there was a darkness feeling that lasted too long. I was spending too much time in the corners of my mind (umm, I think I still am)…and I am working really, really hard to set my heart right.

The Michael Franti lyrics fueled a really good walkabout the other day and they stuck with me. He is really adept and pointing out the Whitman-esque beauties in the world that we tend to overlook. I am really grateful for Michael Franti’s music. (Check him out if you haven’t yet, you will love it…no matter who you are.)

So, back to my brief, heavy heart from this morning. I felt some homesick pangs today. I have many, many more good days, than bad, but there are some holidays that get to you when you’re 7700 miles from home. School (work, as some might call it) is awesome. It’s an amazing challenge every-darn stinkin’-day. Our school is seriously improving by leaps and bounds. The teachers are banding together and bringing us up to competitive heights. We have solid lesson plans, learning centers in classrooms, visible behavior management systems, testing strategies, PLCs…yes, the Al Bawadi Unicorns are on the brink of legendary improvement. THAT, is a serious source of joy for me.

Yes! Grade 6...in a line...without their teacher! THAT is amazing!

Yes! Grade 6…in a line…without their teacher! THAT is amazing!

PD Gallery Walk, outside. A luxury when it only rains 5 days a year.

PD Gallery Walk, outside. A luxury when it only rains 5 days a year.

Senior Leadership Team--doin' some strategery.

Senior Leadership Team–doin’ some strategery.

However, there are setbacks…for me, away from school. There are struggles. There are obstacles to growth. You know who puts them there? I do. I find that my resistance to things happening stops me from learning. I rarely ever say “sh*t happens”, but it does. There’s nothing you can do about it. You can resist, put up a fight, complain to anyone who will listen, tell people “should this/shouldn’t that”…but, it still happens, so acknowledge it, have your emotions, but see it for what it is. This is so basic to how we learn.

Not as strange as one might think.

A lesson in adaptation.

Recently, I watched a TEDtalk by Tom Wujec (Build a Tower, Build a Team—see it!) I won’t give it away, because he does a much better job of explaining this phenomenon…you will never get everything right, the first time you try it. Children know this. They build, and play, and make up games, and they don’t always work, but children don’t focus on the failure, they focus on the process…the game…the creation. This is why project based/inquisitive-based learning is so important. Tell them to memorize the right way to do something and they’ll have to succeed at it a number of times before it is perfected. Let them discover their own way to learn it, and it becomes their practice. This should be applied in all arenas of our lives.

Our Current PD Project. Do what we do...better. Use our expertise to help each other raise the bar.

Our Current PD Project. Do what we do…better. Use our expertise to help each other raise the bar.

As adults, we sometimes fail, and we let that failure discourage us. Really, that failure is a way of getting a mistake out of the way. Or, we use something that happened to us to stop us from attempting something. Imagine as a kid, if when you fell off your bike for the first time, you never got on it again. “Hey, well that didn’t work…so much for bikes!” Ever see Adam Sandler’s “Mr. Deeds”? There’s a scene near the end where he reminds a room full of millionaire stockholders that as children, we believed in our dreams and nothing (but growing up) could stop us from believing in them. As adults, though, some of us let “what happened” stop us from getting back on that bike, or from the beliefs we once held. John Mayer also writes, “Is there anyone who ever remembers/changing their mind/from the paint on a sign?” No, belief is stronger than that.

No Old-Timey Horns! These are around the hospitals in the Dhabi.

No Old-Timey Horns! These are around the hospitals in the Dhabi. I wonder if the paint on this sign makes people change their mind?

So, what happens? Life happens. Things out of your control slow you down, create problems, create resistance. Sometimes, we focus on those things, and we let them slow us down. (Ego…again.) If you resist what happens in your life then you put yourself at the mercy of it, and you let something, or someone, else determine how you feel. I’m talking about things that happened, not future choices. Of course, we can’t just let go of making good decisions. That could be disastrous.

What’s my advice…for me? Sometimes life presents you with limitations. Like physical distance from loved ones, or impossibly small budgets, or…ya know? I’ll spare you the advice. To each his own, correct?

One of our boys expressing his freedom to choose....incorrectly.

One of our boys expressing his freedom to choose….incorrectly.

Soooo, I wrote everything above this paragraph 14 days ago. Here’s what’s strange. I don’t really like it, but I’m sticking with it. The other strange thing is I saw “Boyhood” today. If I had seen it 14 days ago, the first half of this blog would have been totally different. Well, not totally different, but from a different perspective.

You see, I think the advice I held back was to live each day as it’s own, to stay present, to appreciate what you have in front of you, right now. In fact, that advice is doled out in the movie, as well. Here’s the thing, though…balance. I need to balance my thinking. Yes, today is…well, whatever today is, but chances are, today might not be memorable. It’s a string of todays that really become a life…many non-memorable, though we’ll characterize them as “good”, days. Life really is dominated by good days.

TED Talk The Case for Emotional Hygiene. Please watch this. It’s really good. 

Anyway, as I watched “Boyhood”, I went through it all. I watched as a boy, as a brother, as a boyfriend, as a student, as a son, as a husband, as a father, and as a father away from his children. Needless to say, there were some tough moments. However, I can’t put my finger on any one of them and I just saw the movie today. Why? I know I went through the emotional spectrum watching it, but I can’t recall any certain scene and the emotion it evoked. None were remarkable or extreme, but all were special. There’s that balance.

The need for...

The need for…

...balance

…balance.

I kept watching and waiting for some tragedy to befall the family. My instinct as a parent, and as an avid watcher of films, was to look for the cringe moment when something really bad happened to anyone. Ya know? That urge to protect the kids as they grow. Yes, some bad things happened, but there was so much more life around than the bad things.

So I asked myself…”Hey Lee, I have a question for you?” (Yes, I answered. Yes, I know that’s an issue.) The question is, why was I waiting for something bad to happen? Why did I expect it? Does a story about life require a tragedy in order to be life-like? Has my lifelong study of literature boxed me into formulas? Do we assign the word “tragedy” to life events that really should be called “learning opportunities” or, just “life events”. Really, that’s all they are…events that happen during life. So, change of thought for me. Life is not like in the movies…even the really good ones. So, the next time someone says, “…ugh, my life is like a movie…or soap opera…or bad sitcom…” remember, you’re making it that. It simply isn’t true, unless you let it be.

Love the architecture and the landscape architecture here.

Love the architecture and the landscape architecture here.

Symmetry.

Symmetry.

I know you've seen this before. Sun Tower on your left, Sky Tower on your right.

I know you’ve seen this before. Sun Tower on your left, Sky Tower on your right.

Ok, so, that one question became 4 questions…that I can remember. Do we require tragedy to “begin” the life we’re really looking for? I don’t think so. Certainly, we’ve all had our tragedies. I could list the loss of people and events that were traumatic, but did I require them to grow. No, I didn’t. I don’t.

You see, we have the freedom to start the life we want right now. There’s risk in that. There is fear; self-generated. What’s the alternative, though? Living the life you don’t want? Is that an option? In my past, I didn’t take the emotional risks, or make the changes I needed to make. So, the problems stacked up, and so did the obstacles to happiness. The obstacles I made. However, I wasn’t expecting them. I didn’t feel they were necessary; they were definitely part of the plan. However, problems are not the definitions of your life. You face them, you breathe, you live.

Space to breathe. The Campers of Abu Dhabi ride again.

Space to breathe. The Campers of Abu Dhabi ride again.

That’s the beauty of the film. With a scope of 12 years as the setting, the tragedies and their impact seem to diminish in emotional damage because, frankly, life is too busy and too short to cling to them. Watching these lives as they grow over 12 years creates an emotional balance. Life is bigger than the tough moments; they fade and life gets more…more…more everything.

Ya think these dudes are focused on tragedy? I doubt it. They climb over the top of a 76 story building, then slowly work down it hanging by two lines of knotted together rope. Yes, connected by knots. That's trust.

Ya think these dudes are focused on tragedy? I doubt it. They climb over the top of a 76 story building, then slowly work down it hanging by two lines of knotted together rope. Yes, connected by knots. That’s trust.

So the family in the film they just lived. They weren’t extraordinary people, they didn’t fight some Goliath, there were no severe, extreme measures to take in order to survive. They just lived. No typical story arc, none of the stuff I forced my poor English students to remember that every story had…just life. That’s why I think I liked it so much.

So, where’s the balance? Life is long, but made up of moments that are characterized by the choices we make and the labels we attach to them. If we take the tough moments and pick and pull at them like skin on a hangnail, they will get bigger and bleed. We run the risk of making those short bad moments into a life. Then one day, a switch flips and you say, “…life’s too short to hold this or that grudge…” But really, life is long, and you chose to string short bad moments into one long one. I’m choosing to balance my perspective today. I will appreciate the extreme moments as catalysts for growth and change. I will keep in mind that life is long enough to get over anything…as long as I choose to get over it.

AWOD-dhabob=fog. It can be so thick that school is delayed or cancelled. Don't dwell on the fog, appreciate the clarity that follows.

AWOD-dhabob=fog. It can be so thick that school is delayed or cancelled. Don’t dwell on the fog, appreciate the clarity that follows.

Thus the Tolle quote way up at the top. Analyzing a moment over and over again suspends you in that moment, and you lose reality. I bounced the first half of this blog off a friend who is a writer and extremely intelligent. She said, “It’s like you’re not even here!” Six words that stopped me. She was right. All this “now” talk and I was sitting here discussing the past. I felt it, I acknowledge it, and today is a new day. Thanks for the kick! 

Sunrise and Snoopy. (Fujairah, UAE) A new day...everyday. What will you do with it?

Sunrise and Snoopy. (Fujairah, UAE) A new day…everyday. What will you do with it?

Do you know the Serenity Prayer? I do, and I still forget.

We are an impressive work in progress.

Peace and love to you, my friends.

Love, Lee

Speaking of Hygiene-yes, there are sporks here. I am not going to tell you that this boy did not and will not wash his hands. Licked clean and dried on his pants. Eat well, my friends!

Speaking of Hygiene-yes, there are sporks here. I am not going to tell you that this boy did not and will not wash his hands. Licked clean and dried on his pants. Eat well, my friends.

Relapse, Stuckness, or an old dog can learn new tricks!

24 Nov

Abu Dhabi Blog 11-18-2014

Playlist: The Showdown—Carry On Wayward Son (Killer Cover), Michael Franti & Spearhead—I Know I’m Not Alone, Foo Fighters—All My Life, The Rolling Stones–Angie, Rage Against the Machine—Fistful of Steel, Avenged Sevenfold—Hail to the King, Led Zeppelin-Black Dog, Emery—The Party Song, Tool–H, Mos Def–Zimzallabim, The Smashing Pumpkins–Rocket, The Skies We Built–Girls with Accents, Swervedriver—Rave Down, Jeff Buckley—Hallelujah, Quicksand–Unfulfilled, Fugazi–Waiting Room, KXM—Rescue Me, Jane’s Addiction–Stop, Urge Overkill—Sister Havana, Styx—Renegade, Nayked Raygun—Surf Combat, Kool & the Gang—Morning Star, Trey Anastasio—Alive Again, By Line—Happy, Mother Love Bone—Stargazer, Pantera—This Love, The Steepwater Band—Dirty Ol’ Blues, The Jimi Hendrix Experience—Wait Until Tomorrow, Los Lonely Boys—Oye Mamacita, Foo Fighters—Walk, Eric Clapton—Five Long Years, Cage the Elephant—Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked, Middle Class Rut—Aunt Betty, System of a Down–Radio/Video, Bonnie Somerville—Winding Road

Don’t want to be an actor pretending on the stage
Don’t want to be a writer with my thoughts out on the page
Don’t want to be a painter ’cause everyone comes to look
Don’t want to be anything where my life’s an open book…

Don’t want to be a farmer working in the sun
Don’t want to be an outlaw always on the run
Don’t want to be a climber reaching for the top
Don’t want to be anything where I don’t know when to stop

WASTE by Trey Anastasio, recorded by Phish

Hey…I mean, Hello. Yes, it has been a while. Ya know…I have notes, poems, ideas, random thoughts. All things I planned to write about for this blog, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I have avoided it. I have become fearful of a monster I created. (Monster is a bit over-stating it, I realize.)

Monster Squid at the Fish Market in Negombo, Sri Lanka

Monster Squid at the Fish Market in Negombo, Sri Lanka

You see, I really do enjoy this…this, um…hmmm, what is this? Simply, it’s blogging, but what is it really? That, I believe, is where I got stuck. (In a strange twist, I had a day where I was just draped in melancholy. Don’t know why. Emo music, longing for bangs to hang over one eye, dog-eared volume of Sylvia Plath in my back pocket kinda thing. I was driving and I almost started to cry…no idea why. I just knew it was time to purge…so, I ended up here…Hi!)

“Stuckness.” The first time I came upon this idea was when I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. Of course, I had been stuck before, but I was a 20 something, pseudo-macho know-it-all, I didn’t realize it could be an actual condition. Pirsig taught me all I needed to know about “stuckness”, but I didn’t use that information to avoid being stuck. In fact, there have been many times throughout my life where I have been stuck, and I thought I had no resource to get unstuck. You know what? I did. I just didn’t step back, and look at my problem. I maintained the blind objectivity of an expert who has no actual expertise. I’m gonna blame that on ego…but we’ll get back to that…maybe.

View from a tuktuk in Sri Lanka. tons of traffic and horns, but nothing stops moving, very fluid.

View from a tuktuk in Sri Lanka. tons of traffic and horns, but nothing stops moving, very fluid.

I have been really stuck, lately. Stuck. (Strange word, huh? Say it…say it out loud, painfully slowly…not easy. The t and ck make it tough. I lost my breath trying it. Did you?). Anyway, Pirsig writes about the mechanic’s relationship with the motorcycle. Most of what can be maintained on a motorcycle is objective. Anyone who can maintain objectivity can read a manual and maintain a motorcycle. However, once something outside the realm of traditional repair, such as a stripped screw, occurs, then objectivity can’t solve the problem. You need innovation, creativity, and to clear your mind of the path you were previously on. Meaning, you cannot charge ahead with the maintenance in the same manner, because you will always arrive at that same “stuck” point, or screw, as it is.

I don't know what this person was getting at, but I don't care. It struck me. It is on the concrete perimeter of the island. Kinda cool.

I don’t know what this person was getting at, but I don’t care. It struck me. It is on the concrete perimeter of the island. Kinda cool.

SO, what the heck is Lee talking about? I’ve been stuck. The blog became a thing. An object. A task. It had a form to it that I felt objective about. I made it that way…in what can be the worst neighborhood in the world…my head. I thought I could just charge ahead and the words would just come; but I had backed off my first person involvement. I was writing as a reader, not as a feel-er. I was writing as “Lee the blogger” (which seems strange to me), rather than Lee, the me. I was editing for the audience before I even got a word on the page. I felt I had to provide a similar path every time. I wasn’t taking the necessary risk of creating something original (a debatable word, I know). Yet again, I know that we change every single minute of every single day, that the me right now is different than the me just then.

This signifies change here in the Dhabi. During the “fall” and “winter” months, camping is perfect. That's Snoopy Island. That bright spot, the Sun rising again. See? Change.

This signifies change here in the Dhabi. During the “fall” and “winter” months, camping is perfect. That’s Snoopy Island. That bright spot, the Sun rising again. See? Change.

Still, I persisted in trying to reproduce substance that came from a former me. All of my talking of being here now, and I’m not being authentic. That’s how I got stuck. I relapsed, I lost my awareness, I went into that autopilot that just says, “the screw isn’t budging, put some locking pliers on that mothe-uh-screwdriver and muscle it!” Then, I stripped the screw…and I’m glad. It has forced me to step back and examine how I got stuck. Does that make sense? Hopefully, it will.

Sitting down to write became harder and harder, because it was less flow and more form. (If you’re into flow, check out Mikhaly Czikszentmihalyi—I had to google for spelling…good stuff, though…especially for teachers). I thought I had lost control over it. What I realized is I was trying too hard to control it. This is a reoccurring pattern in my life. The need to control. I like to know how a thing is going to turn out. Well, not “like”, more like insist. I’ve been trying to let that go, I really have, though I’ve noticed a bit of a relapse in my growth lately.

This is me chairing a School Leadership Team meeting. Yes, they have SLTs, SIPs, PDPs, PD, IB, OHI, SpEd, everything we have. The only thing they don't have is a mascot. So, I dubbed us The Unicorns: Legend is made here!

This is me chairing a School Leadership Team meeting. Yes, they have SLTs, SIPs, PDPs, PD, IB, OHI, SpEd, everything we have. The only thing they don’t have is a mascot. So, I dubbed us The Unicorns: Legend is made here!

Douglas, our mascot. He reads...a lot!

Douglas, our mascot. He reads…a lot!

So, I attribute part of my stuckness to work. Once again, I let it take over. I lost perspective and became a bit too obsessive about it. Here’s the nutshell: at work there have been some pretty large strategic deficits and some policies that were just plain ignored. Well, now that it’s my second year and I know who to talk to about what, my plan was just to fix everything…NOW! Ummm, bad idea. Here’s a system that’s been running for years in this particular manner, by the same people everyday, and my dumbass ego in his second year is going to push for major changes…and push for them immediately. Guess who got the most upset and frustrated? One guess, go ahead…yes, yours truly.

This is my friend Aslam and his son from Sri Lanka. He invited me to dinner for the Eid feast. He lives in small house with 7 other people. The whole house is 4 rooms. The food was amazing!

This is my friend Aslam and his son from Sri Lanka. He invited me to dinner for the Eid feast. He lives in small house with 7 other people. The whole house is 4 rooms. The food was amazing!

This is their kitchen cupboard...and we argue about which wood finish to choose from...hmmm?

This is their kitchen cupboard…and we argue about which wood finish to choose from…hmmm?

The meal, more curry than you can shake coriander at..."Mistah Lee, why you face so wet?"

The meal, more curry than you can shake coriander at…”Mistah Lee, why you face so wet?”

Strangely, I felt some sort of satisfaction out of the pain and stress I was feeling. There was an actual adrenaline rush, as if my ego was saying, “Yes, this pain, this is what work should feel like…give me more, Lee, push harder.” Well, thank the universe (and a little Ekhart Tolle), that I learned about the “pain-body” that can exist in all of us. That part of us that thrives on stress or pain and pushes forward for fleeting intellectual, yet irrational, stimulation. That is the pain-body. Your, or rather, my, ego feeds it so I push harder. For what? It is an endless pursuit. More is a dangerous thing to want. More has no limit. More is a bottomless pit, a fall that never stops.

136

I'm trying to learn to relax like these dudes. Seen on a canal tour in Sri Lanka. We got a little too close and I got nervous. The boat driver (this was not a “captain” kind of boat) told me, “No worry, you no taste good!” Thanks, buddy. Was I relieved or insulted?

I’m trying to learn to relax like these dudes. Seen on a canal tour in Sri Lanka. We got a little too close and I got nervous. The boat driver (this was not a “captain” kind of boat) told me, “No worry, you no taste good!” Thanks, buddy. Was I relieved or insulted?

I feel very fortunate, though. Rather than get angry or really frustrated (well, I did get purty darn frustrated), I have some tools to slow me down. I am learning to assess myself. Why do I feel this way? Why am I grinding my teeth again? Why am I losing sleep again? Why the headaches? Why are people, again, looking at me and drawing smiley faces at me, or making furrowed brow looks? Why?

055

Sunset. Indian Ocean

Sunset. Indian Ocean

You see, in a former state I would pass all that off as just part of life. Stress, anxiety, sleeplessness, telling people to smile when you don’t, a crease so deep between your eyes it looks like your forehead is trying to eat your uni-brow (You know who you are. I’m not the only one.)

Decrease the crease!

Decrease the crease!

I don’t really make those faces in all parts of my life. I make them in my work life. Which is a silly thing to say, life is life. When you separate your lives, you’re being someone, not just being.

I just like this picture. It's my buddy Khaled, who interprets for me doing our typical PD Interpreter dance once again.

I just like this picture. It’s my buddy Khaled, who interprets for me doing our typical PD Interpreter dance once again.

 

I can’t place my finger on it, but I get very intense around my work. I love what I do. Yet, I question that word all the time. I believe loving what you do is important, but are you loving it so much that you start substituting it for you? Do I get consumed with work? Yes. Do I get emotional about work? Yes (Everyone that knows me has seen that.) Am I allowing my work to interfere with my ability to be happy? Or, am I loving it to avoid loving something else?…Maybe, just maybe, I am.

The difference for me, is I’m questioning it now. Formerly, I thought work, or something you love, was supposed to create that ultimate elation and that grinding, yearning, tiresome, dissatisfaction. Strange, huh? (I also believed that great art came from great pain…only. I don’t believe that now…topic for a different day.)

This feels artistic...no pain. Bait fishing boats, Sri Lanka

This feels artistic…no pain. Bait fishing boats, Sri Lanka

Here I am, 20 years into my career, 30+ years into work life, and I’m still looking for balance. I often feel that if I’m not happy in my work day, then I’m not happy. Now, I KNOW that’s not true, yet I allow it. I relapsed into the idea that if I do well at work, then I am doing well as a person. I am accomplishing and succeeding to feel good about me. Rather, I should feel good about me in order to accomplish and succeed. Easily said, commonly taught, not so easy to do…especially, if your habit is the former.

So, I have to get back the the present moment. Tolle says something that I must keep in mind, “The ego could be defined simply in this way: a dysfunctional relationship with the present moment.” A to the men, ya know? I have a habit of letting the possibility, and the beauty, of the moment slip by because I’m too preoccupied with unproductive feelings like frustration and anger. Useless, man, useless.

Fog rolling through the Dhabi. Beautiful, huh?

Fog rolling through the Dhabi. Beautiful, huh?

What’s it all mean? I still struggle. I struggle to achieve something that I can have at any moment: happiness. Which is silly. Happiness is merely a choice. There is nothing or no one in your head that MAKES you feel a certain way. It is your head, your heart, your life. (Really, I’m talking to me.) So, I’m going to keep practicing my attention to the moment, and give myself the understanding that some habits are really hard to break.

Fog pouring through the building next door. It was a balmy 77. Our students wore knit hats and down jackets...those that showed up, of course. The others took a fog day...yes, the whole day.

Fog pouring through the building next door. It was a balmy 77. Our students wore knit hats and down jackets…those that showed up, of course. The others took a fog day…yes, the whole day.

I think what we need to consider about happiness is that it is not fleeting. Really, it’s not an emotion, happiness is a state. There are other emotions that can interrupt or temporarily cloud happiness, but only because we allow it. So, that’s what I’m working on. Allow the clouds into my happiness, but hold on to happiness as a state. It’s my decision, it’s my choice.

In the meantime, I think I just finished the blog I was dreading. Cool! I will take this moment to feel you all in my heart. I feel how I miss you, and how I love you. I am grateful to have that. Imagine its absence…not for too long, though. Think about making happiness your state. (For a really weird take on being grateful, watch any of Louis C.K.’s stand-up shows.)

Family (especially my girlies) and Friends,

My love and gratitude to you,

Lee

Random cool shot of my 'hood.

Random cool shot of my ‘hood.

The End as a New Beginning, Ask an Expert it’s Cheaper, or What Goes Around Keeps Coming Around Until It Doesn’t.

9 Sep

Abu Dhabi Blog 7-13-2014 through 9-9-14

Playlist Tool–Aenima, Red Hot Chili Peppers—Transcending, Smashing Pumpkins—Quiet, Pepper—FKARND, Bob Marley & the Wailers—Buffalo Soldier, Michael Franti & Spearhead—Everybody Ona Move, Michael Franti & Spearhead—Stay Human (All the Freaky People), Cody ChestnuTT—Can We Teach Each Other, Lyrics Born—Callin’ Out, Lupe Fiasco—Kick, Push, Marvin Gaye—Ain’t That Peculiar, The Beatnuts—The Trouble Is…, Rage Against the Machine—Wake Up, The White Stripes—Rag and Bone, Bob Marley—Redemption Song, The Roots—The Next Movement, Golden Era & R.A. The Rugged Man—On the Block, Clutch—Cyborg Bette, 30 Seconds to Mars—Hunter, Novel & Talib Kweli—They Don’t Flow, John Mayer—On the Way Home, Michael Franti & Spearhead—See You in the Light, Colin Hay—I Just Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You, The Steepwater Band—Dance Me a Number, 30 Seconds to Mars R-Evolve

Excuse me, too busy, you’re writing a tragedy
These mess-ups
You bubble-wrap
When you’ve no idea what you’re like

So, let go,Jump in
Oh well, what you waiting for?
It’s all right
‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown
So, let go,Just get in
Oh, it’s so amazing here
It’s all right
‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown

 Frou Frou – Let Go

We cannot selectively numb…”

Blame is a way to discharge pain and discomfort”

Brene Brown

Nothing ever happened in the past that can prevent you from being present now; and if the past cannot prevent you from being present now, what power does it have?…To see one’s predicament clearly is a first step toward going beyond it…With forgiveness, your victim identity dissolves, and your true power emerges—the power of Presence. Instead of blaming the darkness, you bring in the light.”

Eckhart Tolle A New Earth

Gosh! Hello! Wow…so much going on I just…I just don’t know where to start. This journey of life, which I am learning is not separate from me, continues to teach and astound me everyday. As you can see from the quotes above…ok, go back, I know you ignored them. (Hello!? They’re contextually important). So, yes, after looking at the quotes you can see that I have been bouncing around in my head and my heart quite a bit recently. Part of what I’m learning is that I can allow myself to bounce, or I can start and stop it. My brain is me, I am my brain. There is no separate entity. The conversation in your head is you, both voices…you. More than two? Let someone know, please 🙂 .

My Reading Spot. Every home needs one. A work in Progress.

My Reading Spot. Every home needs one. A work in Progress.

Pre-Meditation..yes, the walls are still bare...as I said, a work in progress.

Pre-Meditation..yes, the walls are still bare…as I said, a work in progress.

So, this time of year is always tough for me. I go through separation anxiety when school is out. I miss the students, the teachers, the work, the PD…all of it. I’ve been particularly anxious the last few weeks. Not sleeping, grinding my teeth, headaches, bouncing knees, sadness…all of it. It is particularly hard here because most of our students left around June 19, the rest a week later. So, it’s the slowest grind of an end to the year, EVER!

My office wall. I let the kids decompress by coloring. It also helps me track who's been in. If you have more than 3 pictures, there may be a problem. Oh...some PD stuff, too.

My office wall. I let the kids decompress by coloring. It also helps me track who’s been in. If you have more than 3 pictures, there may be a problem. Oh…some PD stuff, too.

I’m still working on being authentic…all the time. It’s not easy. For years, my internal conversation was going on while I was talking and deciding. I was constantly editing my words to make solutions as easy as possible—even, and especially, if it made more work for me. (By the way, if you do that too, I gently suggest you stop. It is a recipe for resentment and anger at yourself.) What I have realized is when you do that, you don’t give the other person the credit and respect they deserve. We hold our tongues sometimes thinking we are protecting others, or just thinking for them, all the while robbing them of an authentic conversation and learning experience.

Small bites are better. More flavor, more appreciation, better chewing.

Small bites are better. More flavor, more appreciation, better chewing.

A phrase has been haunting me lately, so I’m going to release it and see where it goes. Wanna come along? Really? Thank you, I’m glad…the phrase changes around for me, inverts, makes me furrow my brow, is sometimes declarative, sometime interrogative, sometimes exclamatory…always cautionary in tone. So, I’m having a hard time deciding which form to present it, so we’ll play with it a bit. Here it is…incompletely…

The price of being your own expert.

Or, what is the price of being your own expert? Or, Can you afford to be your own expert? Or, Being your own expert can be tragically expensive. Or, well, I think you get it. The more I toss this around, the more I see its applications. Whether it be physical, intellectual, or spiritual, seeking an expert costs much less than the possible price you might pay trying to be your own expert. Think about the dieters and everyday gym-goers who work hard, on their own, and never get the results they are looking for, or possibly, get injured. Wouldn’t some expert advice be helpful? Think about the frustration of learning Calculus without someone to interpret. What about the struggles in your own head and heart? The incessant questions and internal discussions that seem to repeat without solutions, or strategies for handling them. Or, ever try to tile a bathroom for the first time? In all of these cases, there are experts. Previously, I was my own expert in all things. When I finally slunk out of that ego-created mire, I was very near breakdown…actually, I was there. Not because I couldn’t believe what had happened, but because I couldn’t believe how much I didn’t know, how much I had avoided living, how much I cut myself out of, how afraid of not knowing I was, how much I needed…and how much everyone else had to offer…if I had just been open to it.

Less this...

Less this…

...more this.

…more this.

I was preaching love, togetherness, understanding, giving…all of it. BUT, I wasn’t participating, authentically. I wasn’t giving all of me; and that robbed me of some genuine, authentic, opportunities. (Cue the Frou Frou song above, and Watch the Brene Brown TED talk on Vulnerability…she has a moment in her research where she realizes, she can’t get authentic results, she can’t live the complete life she is looking for because she’s too busy trying to control it as an experiment. Life is no experiment, it is here, today, now. Don’t study it, BE it.). This reminds me of Carlos Castaneda’s books, which were a gift to me from an amazing friend when I graduated many years ago. Castaneda wants to learn the the way of the Shaman, see the visions, experience all of it. The shaman tells him to go away. You either Live it, or you’ll never understand it. In other words, to understand the Shaman, you have to live as the Shaman. (By the way, I was way too immature to get Castaneda back then. I just thought they were “cool”. Little did I know, I could have learned from them a long time ago. Thank you, Doc Coffey)

Created all on its own.

Created all on its own.

I’m not going into word origins and roots; I’m sure you see how being an expert requires experience. Anything else, and you’re an observer, a reviewer; a commentator.

However, I think we have to be cautious with the word “expert”. I believe an expert, in all of the scenarios above, is someone on a journey. I don’t think expertise is a goal or the final level or an end point. It is a level of a certain mastery, but the expert is still traveling, still growing, still learning, adding to that body of expert-ness.

Here’s the hardest part about all of this. Now, when people come to my office and ask a question or need an explanation, I have to take a breath, and sometime say three words I thought would disappear from my lexicon as an adult. “I don’t know.” In fact, I have never said it more in my life than I have in the last year. Aside from the language difficulties, I am in a new school, with new practices, and a totally different culture. I mean school culture, not arts and customs culture. Things just run differently here…and sometimes they don’t run, at all. In the West we spend a lot of time learning strategic planning and communication flow. They have that here, as well. But it’s quite different. A strategic plan was created 5 years ago…for the whole country. So, how does a school of 900 boys in an old-fashioned small town fit into that strategy? It doesn’t. That’s my job. How do we do that? I don’t know…yet. (Yes, I read Carol Dweck.)

Lifelines.

Lifelines.

Fast Forward through an amazing summer with my girls and friends and family to the beginning of Year Two in Abu Dhabi. The Dhabi! Get your T-shirts. (The Dhabi on the front, Mafee Mushkala on the back.)

004

Home.

004

Home, as well. See Chicago?

162

The North Shore of Chicago. They changed flight pattern while I was away. Now, we get to see this! Cool!

SO! Here we are. A new school year, Mistah Lee is excited and anxious to get started. I love the anticipation and the promise of every new school year. After last year, and the amazing effort of our staff, I came back with super high expectations and an almost PollyAnna-ic (I make up words~deal!) attitude.

They're heee-eeerrrre...

They’re heee-eeerrrre…

To be honest, it seems I forgot how things go here. My pace? Totally irrelevant, and attempting to impose it only leads to frustration. After everything I learned and wrote about last year, I find myself frustrated and going through some of the same emotions as last year. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and our school won’t change in a year. You’d think I would have learned that by now. Not the case.

In my next life, I want to be an architect...or a rock star...or an actor...hey? How many do we get?

In my next life, I want to be an architect…or a rock star…or an actor…hey? How many do we get?

I LOVE turnaround schools…hard cases, tough students, and supporting teachers who have become frustrated. I figured after all the success from last year, we’d just pick right up where we left off. Most of us did, however, we came back to black mold in classrooms, broken doors and windows, 90% of classrooms with no internet, missing teachers, extended vacations by some staff, and 2/3 of our population brand new to our school of 900. Cue inner critical voice: Hey Dummy, this is what you asked for…remember?

Six Hundred new Elementary boys. New buses. They come from cities with NO ADDRESSES. Addresses don't exist here...Hey, where do you live? Me? Over by 'dere...yes, that's real.

Six Hundred new Elementary boys. New buses. They come from cities with NO ADDRESSES. Addresses don’t exist here…Hey, where do you live? Me? Over by ‘dere…yes, that’s real.

Metaphor alert! A school is a sum of its parts. Each part important to the whole...and no matter how many times you dice a habanero and how much you sautee it, that little dude is still very spicey! Make sense? Excellent!

Metaphor alert! A school is a sum of its parts. Each part important to the whole…and no matter how many times you dice a habanero and how much you sautee it, that little dude is still very spicey! Make sense? Excellent!

The lesson for me continues…and I am grateful. Regardless of my new found, yet infrequent, ability to “let go” of things, I still find myself gnashing my teeth, painfully tense through my neck and shoulders, and frequently giving away my piece (peace) of mind. Guess how much good that is doing me. Go ahead, guess…Exactly! None. This is my life. My ability to stay present and grateful is challenged by the choices I make and still I victimize myself through blame and self-anger at situations I cannot control. I heard myself today say, “If they’d just let me take over…” For what? Then what? More stress, less strategy, even less sleep. Slow learner, I know. That’s ok. I will get it when I get it…ya know? Sa?

Night Putting...you know, putting at night.

Night Putting…you know, putting at night.

Let me tell why I love the beginning of a new school year. Everything is fresh. The kids are excited (despite their complaints), the teachers’ hearts are renewed and hopeful, and the opportunity for impact on a community is Brobdingnagian. So, teach smeach, I say. Spend time getting to know the students. Notice every darn one of them. Create the loving and warm classroom and school that burns into their hearts and minds so they have an unforgettable experience. Let’s see each other smile, dance, share, and engage. Sometimes, as adults in schools, we forget the students are watching. We get short with each other when things aren’t going as we expected. They see this. We create the environment. They react to it and absorb it, and become it. There are many things to be frustrated about right now, but we have to hide our discontent from them. Certainly, it’s not in them. It’s in us. When educators get upset it’s because our job is in our hearts. When it isn’t going well, we get down because we care. However, those are adult issues. We don’t have to shield children from emotions. In fact, we shouldn’t. We should be mindful of the source of our frustrations, take inventory of why we’re upset, and take responsibility for it. Yes, it is frustrating to have no ability to copy or print when you’re setting up. Can we control it? Can we change it? If so, how? If not, now what?

Our teachers are resourceful. The "bulletin boards are plywood. Try sticking a tack or staple into that! Some use cardboard and a staple gun, some use mounting board. They are forced to think outside---nope! Not gonna say it. They are resourceful and creative...and amazing.

Our teachers are resourceful. The “bulletin boards” are plywood. Try sticking a tack or staple into that! Some use cardboard and a heavy duty staple gun, some use mounting board (all of which they buy out of pocket). They are forced to think outside—nope! Not gonna say it. They are resourceful and creative…and amazing.

By the way…this is for me. I am writing to remind me, that my ego creates negativity when I allow it. In fact, the more I feed it negativity, the more it craves. Negativity is a dangerous addiction. In a previous position I would read an old Native American tale to my teenagers. Yes, a child’s story, but they liked it. It is about the good wolf and the bad wolf that can live inside of us. We can choose what we feed it. It will grow no matter what. So we have to be mindful of what we feed it, always aware that it is hungry. Simple. True.

Non-sequitur alert! Went to my friend Abdulla's wedding. All male, all food and tea and soft drinks...no dancing, no ceremony, no hassle, at all. Eat, talk, leave! Yes! Lamb, tikka, curry, mezza, harees ( a thick chicken/rice dish)...oh, and pasta.

Non-sequitur alert! Went to my friend Abdulla’s wedding. All male, all food and tea and soft drinks…no dancing, no ceremony, no hassle, at all. Eat, talk, leave! Yes! Lamb, tikka, curry, mezza, harees ( a thick chicken/rice dish)…oh, and pasta.

The setting at the wedding.

The setting at the wedding.

What’s my point? Yeah, Lee, what IS my point? Be. Here. Now. Yes, you’ve seen/heard/read this from me before. I have to constantly remind myself of it. Today. Today is pretty amazing. Despite the 6 seriously wailing 5-7 year olds (just today), despite the un-ready school, despite the lack of a common language, despite the many lacks we are dealing with, we have 900 bundles of potential, and, we have each other. Cliche? Maybe, but look at it. Think about it. Look at the power available in all the hearts and minds around us. I am 7700 miles from where I grew up and I have learned that people everywhere need each other. There are struggles everywhere and when we look at each other and share authentically, we connect, we create, we change, and we improve. Today, I will feed my good wolf. I will accept. I will remain vulnerable. I will see the expertise in everyone. I am human, and I am grateful.

The Word according to Bob…

One Love! One Heart!

Let’s get together and feel all right!

Love.

Lee

No plan can be a good plan, Being un-lost, or Open Hearts open hearts.

3 Jun

 

June 1, 2014

Foo Fighters—Watershed, Deftones—Be Quiet and Drive, The White Stripes—Icky Thump, Michael Franti & Spearhead—One Step Closer to You, The Roots Diedre vs Dice, Deftones—Knife Party, The Roots—You Ain’t Fly, The Beastie Boys—Funky Donkey, The Freddy Jones Band—California, Red Hot Chili Peppers—One Hot Minute, Zero 7—In the Waiting Line, Justin Timberlake—Spaceship Coupe, Foo Fighters—Everlong, Soundgarden—The Day I Tried to Live, Incubus—Quicksand, Rush—Freewill, Dave Matthews Band—Ants Marching, The Beastie Boys—Long Burn the Fire, Smashing Pumpkins—Daydream, Marvin Gaye—I’ll be Doggone, Rage Against the Machine—Down Rodeo, Cody ChestnuTT—Magic in a Mortal Minute, Marvin Gaye—Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology Song), Foo Fighters—For All the Cows. Killswitch Engage—For You, Dr. Dre—Forgot About Dre, Tool—46 & 2, Mos Def (as Black Jack Johnson)—Freak Daddy, Rage Against the Machine–Freedom

The Sunset on my first night in Thailand. Also, a great image, thematically. Enjoy the read...please...I hope.

The Sunset on my first night in Thailand. Also, a great image, thematically. Enjoy the read…please…I hope.

Ya know? This blogging thing is kinda hard. So many decisions go into the writing process. I am going to write about my Spring Break for this blog. It was intensely personal, very emotional, and the first time I have ever…gone anywhere…completely…new…and completely…alone. (Physically, I have just paused to catch my breath.)

Even now as my brain sends detailed, and remarkably almost involuntary instructions on which fingers to press which keys, my ego, which I create and recreate everyday and allow to exist, is making me cautious, and making me second guess this choice. I told myself I’d let it out, that I’d release my experience to the world without judgment. I’m trying to see the world as my daughters did when they were so little.

Koh Samui Airport. Mostly outdoor hallways and beautifully integrated into the natural beauty of Thailand's Islands.

Koh Samui Airport. Mostly outdoor hallways and beautifully integrated into the natural beauty of Thailand’s Islands.

I remember their gorgeous almond-shaped eyes, so big and milk chocolate brown, soaking it all in, seeing everything for the first time, or seeing things over and over again and still finding wonder in them. I want that. I want that…back. I want the “yawp” Whitman encourages us to release, the intensity that William Blake said we must feel…to feel…and what did Wordsworth talk about…the spontaneous overflow of feelings? We MUST make time for that. It is not optional! I remember living on the floor with them so I could try to adopt their perspective just to get a glimpse of that wonder. They taught me so much…and still do. (Man, I miss them…words…failing…love)

A latte in the Dhabi airport. I didn't ask for the art...love happens...everywhere.

A latte in The Dhabi airport. I didn’t ask for the art…love happens…everywhere.

Second course in The Dhabi airport...What!? A man needs breakfast!

Second course in The Dhabi airport…What!? A man needs breakfast!

Well, I’ve been through so much change the last two years, I can honestly say, I’ve opened my eyes again, as if for the first time. I haven’t forgotten the days gone by, and I am grateful for the lessons, but I am seeing the new ones without pretense, with curiosity and wonder and possibility, and I am glad to know I have no idea what the future holds.

This guy claims to know what the future holds. Hey!? Is that Frank Pantengeli? Godfather 2?

This guy claims to know what the future holds. Hey!? Is that Frank Pantengeli? Godfather 2?

I was encouraged by many to take a trip on my own. All said it is a unique and growing experience. All were correct. I highly suggest it.

This is a hotel ad in the in flight magazine. Ummm, I think the Universe is speaking to me.

This is a hotel ad in the in flight magazine. Ummm, I think the Universe is speaking to me.

So, I’ve never been to Thailand and the price was SO right, I couldn’t turn it down. Heck, I’ve spent more money in 4 days in Chicago than I did flying, staying, and eating in 9 days in Thailand.

My hotel on Koh PhangAn.

My hotel on Koh PhangAn.

My hotel on Koh Samui. The Punpreeda Hip Resort...fun to say. Try it!

My hotel on Koh Samui. The Punpreeda Hip Resort…fun to say. Try it!

Waterfront, table in the sand, tempura, pad thai, coconut chicken, and a beer...about $7.

Waterfront, table in the sand, tempura, pad thai, coconut chicken, and a beer…about $7.

Pad Thai in a Thai fishing village.

Pad Thai in a Thai fishing village.

Fresh rolled Sushi at an outdoor market...about $5 for that plate...my 1st of 3..or 4...or...

Fresh rolled Sushi at an outdoor market…about $5 for that plate…my 1st of 3..or 4…or…

So I’m there. I’m alone. No schedule, no plans, very little information…just me, the committee in my head, the neighborhood that is my brain, a couple books, and of course, 1000 songs to fill the space. Tell me why I was so anxious? Why do I immediately get a map and start planning? Planning for what? What do I NEED to see? Why do I have to maximize…well, anything? I’m on vacation, I’m alone, and I have 9 days to do…nothing. Sounds ideal, right?

This should have been the only thought in my head. View of infinity pool (with integrated bar and bartender named "Lee", yes! Hmmm?) and beach at The Coast Beach Resort.

This should have been the only thought in my head. View of infinity pool (with integrated bar and bartender named “Lee”, yes! Hmmm?) and beach at The Coast Beach Resort.

Well, it wasn’t easy, at first. That’s not a complaint. That’s my shortcoming. I am not accustomed to not having a plan. On my flight from The Dhabi to Bangkok, I was relaxed and ready to chill until I realized that I only had 45 minutes to make my connecting flight and we left 90 minutes late. Luckily, a few others with the same flight (and a louder customer voice) demanded they make the connecting flight wait. They did. However, we had to run to the gate. In fact, the airline employees throw a sticker on your chest, then tell you to run. So, you do the polite hurry-up walk, and they chase after you, “No Misterrrr, run, run!”

Cities of clouds holding the dreams of skyward gazers everywhere.

Cities of clouds holding the dreams of skyward gazers everywhere.

Taking the advice of others, I had no transportation plans, no overnight stay plans, and no realization that Expedia doesn’t care if the flight you booked won’t get you on the ferry to your destination island until the next day. No worries, though. There were plenty others in the same boat…or not in the same boat? Either way. Apparently, there’s a whole segment of society who really does just throw stuff in a backpack and goes somewhere. I wish I was that cool. I’m not sure the shaved, short-haired, 40-something guy with the roller case (carry-on, mind you), and book bag size back pack fit in with these seemingly happy go-lucky travelers, but the conversations were lively and all were friendly.

Ummm, no one told me the Ferry was clothing optional!

Ummm, no one told me the Ferry was clothing optional!

After a misunderstanding due to pronunciation issues (on both parts), I learned I had about half the day on Koh Samui before the next ferry. I had to fight the itch in my brain that just wanted to force a solution and get to my hotel on Koh PhangAn to settle in? For what? Why did I need to hurry up to slow down? What is it that makes me anxious about something I can do nothing about? There’s one ferry, Lee. Wait for it, and enjoy the time you have…enjoy every minute.

Ferry dock...no Ferry. No Worries...eventually.

Ferry dock…no Ferry. No Worries…eventually.

Isn’t this so true? We say it all the time. “You only have today…live life every minute…every day is a gift, enjoy it…etc.” What did that Lennon guy say? “Life is what happens when your busy making other plans”?

After missing the Ferry, life dealt me this. I'll take it. However, the muzak version of "Dancing on the Ceiling" was a bit unsettling...headphones, take me away!

After missing the Ferry, life dealt me this. I’ll take it. However, the muzak version of “Dancing on the Ceiling” was a bit unsettling…headphones, take me away!

So, I was forced to slow down. I needed to. The pace of my work life hasn’t been that hectic, lately, but the pace of my emotional life has been. You know who’s responsible for that stress? I am. There are many things up in the air for me right now. Most of them I can’t solve in a day. In fact, I can only participate in their resolve, I am not the architect of those solutions.

The view from The View Hotel. Owned by my new friend, Lee. Seriously, that's his name. A former attorney from Tel Aviv, who left to follow his dream. If you have too many beers at the bar, the steps are an insane test. No rails and super steep. He told me I don't look like a Principal. I love when people say that.

The view from The View Hotel. Owned by my new friend, Lee. Seriously, that’s his name. A former attorney from Tel Aviv, who left to follow his dream. If you have too many beers at the bar, the steps are an insane test. No rails and super steep. He told me I don’t look like a Principal. I love when people say that.

Human relationships are complicated. Many of us take our experience and perspectives and believe them to be the same as others. We don’t take into consideration the definitions, the interpretations, the filters, the histories, the current events, that shape our present day attention. At the same time, we can’t wait to speak until we learn all of that. The only thing we can do, is speak from our single perspective, be straightforward about what we want or need, and wait for the reaction. You took action. That’s your step. The reaction, that’s theirs (while at the same time being their action, as well.) Then, you respect that response and how you interact begins to take shape. Honestly, I can’t decide if it’s simple or complicated. I believe the ego makes it complicated. Speak from the heart and not the “I want more” and relationships will be simplified…right?

Peaceful, huh?

Peaceful, huh?

So, it took me two days to shake the “I should be doing something” anxiety. I noticed that the people staying at the hotel were content to sit at the pool, walk to the beach, back to the pool, and repeat all day. Some never leaving the hotel. I liked that…no rush to see this or that, just relax. Again, it took me 2 days to figure that out! I rented a scooter to see the island. A great experience! Ya know, driving on the left side of the road is easy, until you’re turning right into oncoming traffic.

MissTery, but I'm not sure if that's her name...get it? She is SO sweet! She rented me a scooter, sold me gas, and did my laundry...and a HUGE hug at the end of my trip. Not sure why, but I needed it, and she saw that. Open hearts open hearts.

MissTery, but I’m not sure if that’s her name…get it? She is SO sweet! She rented the scooter, sold the gas, and did my laundry…and a HUGE hug at the end of my trip. Not sure why, but I needed it, and she saw that. Open hearts open hearts.

Yes, that's a liquor bottle...and about a dollar's worth of gas. The scooter totaled about $60 for 8 days, including fuel. Most people have a "fuel" stand outside their homes. They run up to help you and won't take tips...so you sneak it in between the bottles.

Yes, that’s a liquor bottle…and about a dollar’s worth of gas. The scooter totaled about $60 for 8 days, including fuel. Most people have a “fuel” stand outside their homes. They run up to help you and won’t take tips…so you sneak it in between the bottles.

MissTery did my laundry for about $3, and folded it tighter than I ever could, and if you know me, I pride myself on folding.

MissTery did my laundry for about $3, and folded it tighter than I ever could, and if you know me, I pride myself on folding.

Koh PhangAn is not very large so the streets have no names (Ok, go ahead, sing the song), which differs from the Dhabi, where streets have 3 names, but no numbers. One can’t really get lost for too long. You can see the coast from the mountain roads and the mountain roads from the coast.

Top o the world, Ma!

Top o the world, Ma!

A random stopping point at the top...deep breath! Yeah...goooooood!

A random stopping point at the top…deep breath! Yeah…goooooood!

There was a time when getting lost seemed like a ridiculous and inconvenient idea. I would grind my teeth, tighten my jaw, snort and huff, and curse myself for being sooooo stupid!…and never once did any of that help. When I got to the Dhabi, I had a few weeks before work started. I kept hearing, “It’s an island, you can’t get lost…” I didn’t understand. I do now. In fact, I spent many hours walking around being geographically lost, but being exactly where I needed to be…not lost at all.

Yes, I'm on the right side of the road...which is the left. Views everywhere.

Yes, I’m on the right side of the road…which is the left. Views everywhere.

As I look back two years or so, I was SO bent on knowing EXACTLY where I was that I could never get lost. The irony, of course, for this slow learner, is I was lost. I lost myself. So much so that I didn’t even know it. I let my ego distract me. There is no freedom in disallowing yourself to get lost. If you always know exactly where you are and are familiar with everything around you, how will you grow? Sure, you can manufacture growth opportunities (reading, meditating, sudoku, Lumosity), but those are challenges you brought on. When was the last time you walked into a place and you knew no one, or truly didn’t know what to do, or didn’t speak the language, or…all of the above. There’s your growth moment. I’m not saying that’s the only way, but it is effective for those of us who prefer(-red) to control our environments.

Any bored linemen out there? Good Luck. The hair on your neck stands up if you stop near these.

Any bored linemen out there? Good Luck. The hair on your neck stands up if you stop near these.

Ummm, why can't I hear the waterfall?...oh, spelling optional...again.

Ummm, why can’t I hear the waterfall?…oh, spelling optional…again.

When that revelation came to me, after the third waterfall I couldn’t find…–“Ummm, sir, no water in waterfall…no rain, no water…”–I decided, I’d get lost everyday. The first two days on the scooter, I’m saying to myself… “Oh, I’ll come back to that…or, I’ll get a picture tomorrow…or, remember where that is…” For what? If it catches your eye today. Go look at it! Stop and smell the roses, right? Don’t plan to come back and have the same experience! It won’t be the same….which brings me to the monastery and the temple…seriously, as I typed that, as my consciousness became aware of what my subconscious was about to reveal, my heart got heavy, thick, my skin warm…I changed…again.

The 3 Characteristics and 10 ethical promises of the Bodhisattva way.

The 3 Characteristics and 10 ethical promises of the Bodhisattva way.

Ok, people! Time out! This is not going well for me. You probably didn’t notice, but I did. I have to get this off my chest. I felt guilty about going on vacation alone so I manufactured a reason to go. “I’ll go find myself. Think things out. Find the happier Lee…of course, this trip must have a purpose, right?” That’s me. I play roles. Within those roles, each of those Lees looks for validation from outside sources…family, colleagues, even complete strangers. What a bizarre concept! We define ourselves secretly, behave a certain way and expect to get a reward for that behavior from the universe…at least I do…er, I did. I am not two people. I am me. Here I am two months later finally coming to terms and accepting that vacation for exactly what it was. Me being me…which is probably why the monastery hit me so hard…look at these.

Greeting Visitors

Greeting Visitors

The Prayer Room. I spent 15-20 minutes in there, completely silent and completely present with a monk and a devotee. SO powerful! I felt like I was being held. I didn't want to leave.

The Prayer Room. I spent 15-20 minutes in there, completely silent and completely present with a monk and a devotee. SO powerful! I felt like I was being held. I didn’t want to leave.

Gorgeous!

Gorgeous!

From a nearby Chinese temple which the monk from the monastery encouraged me to visit. She is at THE VERY TOP. Her view is...perfect.

From a nearby Chinese temple which the monk from the monastery encouraged me to visit. She is at THE VERY TOP. Her view is…perfect.

Guardians of the Shrine. Sir Shred-a-Lot and Mr. Tambourine...man.

Guardians of the Shrine. Sir Shred-a-Lot and Mr. Tambourine…man.

A prayer room with relief sculptures on the wall.

A prayer room with relief sculptures on the wall.

Something that touched me as I rode the coast.

Something that touched me as I rode the coast.

On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.” 
― Robert M. PirsigZen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Ok, ok, it was a scooter, but you get the idea. I do remember bouts of natural thought. Those times when I wasn’t yelling at myself about not thinking enough about my life situations. Moments when I let myself relax, enjoy the present, shut off all filters, and just feel. The most memorable was when I left the monastery for the first time. About 10 minutes up and down and around the winding mountain roads, I just started weeping. I guess I needed to purge. It’s an interesting thing to cry as a man. In company, it is unsettling for those watching. As if it shouldn’t happen. When alone, however, I found it …umm…hmmm…I found it to be…real. Even as I type this, I am re-visiting the moment. The warm wind, the beautiful rich green rolling mountains, the buzz of the scooter, my skin browning in the sun, the Peace I just experienced (and continued to feel) during my impromptu meditation with the monk and a follower…and there I was. Me, alone, ok. Not sad or happy, just alive, feeling fulfilled, tears rolling down my face, accepting it all, no explanation, no justification…a human Being, rather than a human Doing. It felt like a spiritual bath…actually, it was.

You know what? I think that’s enough for now. How about some pictures?

THE hottest soccer field in the world!

THE hottest soccer field in the world!

Squid drying in the sun outside of Choklakum, a fishing village...which you smell long before you get there. Each "tray" has about 100, and there are a 100 trays, at least...smell that!

Squid drying in the sun outside of Choklakum, a fishing village…which you smell long before you get there. Each “tray” has about 100, and there are a 100 trays, at least…smell that!

So!? Some of you have your dog tied up outside!

So!? Some of you have your dog tied up outside!

Steve the Cow. "What!? Move along tourist! Eat more chicken!"

Steve the Cow. “What!? Move along tourist! Eat more chicken!”

These French guys have a good thing going...

These French guys have a good thing going…

Probably not Snoop's boat.

Probably not Snoop’s boat.

Hard to see, but there's an orangutan on the cab of the truck. He catches the coconuts and throws them into the bed of the truck...and, he stares at me until I get scared and leave.

Hard to see, but there’s an orangutan on the cab of the truck. He catches the coconuts and throws them into the bed of the truck…and, he stares at me until I get scared and leave.

Barbecued monk---well, you figure it out.

Barbecued monk—well, you figure it out.

A school. Love seeing schools in other countries. Most are guarded by high walls and fences...think about that.

A school. Love seeing schools in other countries. Most are guarded by high walls and fences…think about that.

Persistence.

Persistence.

Real. Fresh Bananas. Cooked every way possible. SO good! About 2 pounds worth for $1.50.

Real. Fresh Bananas. Cooked every way possible. SO good! About 2 pounds worth for $1.50.

Don't talk.

Don’t talk.

So, what have I learned? SOOOO much! For today, I will be aware of the roles I’m assuming and why I am assuming them. Then, stop it and act from me. I want everything I do to become spiritual practice. What does that mean? I LOVE being a Principal. Now, more-so that I do it without requiring validation. Sure, recognition is nice, but it isn’t necessary, whereas I think I craved it in the past. Now, I just “Be” as a Principal and the life of it is much easier. Sure, I get frustrated. I’m learning to check that and if I see fault in what others do or don’t do, then I look at myself first. What is my part in it? How can I help? The next step…do that in every role…especially as a parent. We internalize so much of what our children are and run the risk of not allowing them to be them. They deserve space, mistakes, conflict, everything that is part of a normal well-rounded human being.

I love you my precious, beautiful daughters. I love you so much. Everyday!

Me. Moving forward. Everyday. Thank you for your love and support!

Me. Moving forward. Everyday. Thank you for your love and support!

Thank you, everyone. So freakin’ much!

Peace and Love,

Lee

(Touch your hand to your heart for me, please.)

 

 

Back in the (Camel) saddle again, or You can never go home again, or Lessons from Freshman English

6 Jan

Abu Dhabi Blog!

Playlist–Michael Franti & Spearhead-Time to Go Home, Taking Back Sunday-A Decade Under the Influence, Rage Against the Machine-Bulls on Parade, 30 Seconds to Mars-The Fantasy, Billy Joel-Get It Right the First Time, Coheed & Cambria-The Hound (Of Blood and Rank), Tool-Faaip De Oaid, Rush-Limelight, Deftones-Knife, The Smiths-What Difference Does It Make?, Killswitch Engage-Break the Silence, Gary Clark Jr.-Don’t Owe You A Thang, Clutch-Unto the Breach, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell-You’re all I Need Tonight, Dave Matthews solo-Rhyme & Reason, The Police-Spirits in the Material World, Rage Against the Machine, Know Your Enemy, Buddy Guy-Stone Crazy, Michael Franti & Spearhead-Love Invincible, The The-Kingdom of Rain, Bad Brains-Babylon, Cloakroom-Breaking, Red Hot Chili Peppers-Brendan’s Death Song, Michael Franti & Spearhead-I know I’m Not Alone

Pretty cool. Look at the First and last song. Luck? Nope, something bigger. Enjoy!

1–Ummm, Hi. Yeah, it’s been a while. I’m back in the Dhabi after an interesting 3 weeks in the city of my birth. (Yo! MC! Mad love for the 219!) Actually this installment is more about home (and the concept of homes—oh and luck, and love, and loss, and the 5 stories ever written, and maybe some pics of me at work, if you’re really good) than it is about life in the Dhabi…because, really, life here is like life anywhere…anywhere that people break out down ski jackets and huge Irish sweaters, and ask you if “you’re ok in the cold” when it’s 61 degrees out. (Yeah, no kidding. Had that conversation about 15 times today…I’m thinking about you, and praying for you enduring the blizzard around Lake Michigan. Truthfully, I kinda miss it….easy to say, right? There is no “wind chill” here…more like “breezy intemperateness”.) As cliché as it all sounds, life anywhere is relative. My hometown is buried under snow and reeling from freezing temperatures, but it’s not  beyond a typical winter. My current home is experiencing unseasonable lows that my hometown people call Spring. Both peoples are cold, despite a 70 degree difference.

My lovely hometown

This is the ice pack and sand glaciers that form every winter on Lake Michigan--a short walk from my house.

This is the ice pack and sand glaciers that form every winter on Lake Michigan–a short walk from my house.

Actually it drizzled here today…SHUT THE STREETS DOWN! Kidding. Rain– maTarrr Say it…go ahead maTarrrrrrrr….rolling r’s are fun!

2–So, where to begin? I took some philosophy courses as a barefoot goatee-d Chris Cornell wannabe in college, and I once wrote a paper on Heraclitus and the Doctrine of Flux; a partial title for the work he did. In a really compact underdeveloped pistachio shell the idea is that everything is always changing, perceived or not, it is changing…thus, so are we. Often mis-attributed to ‘Clitus (yeah, we’re tight), is this quote, “man can never stand in the same river twice”. (Go ahead my mad-googlers, check away, but know that this river will change once you leave….and so will you, my friends, so will you.) Really, the quote is a rearrangement of what he said, but contextually accurate in terms of his meaning. The MacGuffin here (Hitchcock fans, you feel me) is the Heraclitus quote is kind of an entre to a quote I’ve always had a hard time with: “You can’t go home again” or “you can never go home again”. (The first is a Thomas Wolfe novel—read it.) Cheap Summary—in the novel, George Webber is turned away by his hometown (not gonna give away why) and (kinda) travels world and eventually rediscovers his love for his home. Honestly, there’s not too much of a parallel here, but it’s a good book.

The interesting thing for me is I get to do here what I did at home. The situation isn’t that different. When I tell people where I work, they get the spoiled milk smell face on…then shake their heads as if to say, “awww, I’m sorry.”

The reality, just like it was at home, is we have a talented group of teachers who have been told over and over that their school and their kids just won’t ever become something big. I totally disagree. Totally. I am grateful for the opportunity. I am thankful for the lesson that taught me I could do this. I am thankful for the lesson that let me see this as a change I needed. I am thankful for the lesson that made me step out of the river and re-enter, anew.

Look at these teachers work! Love it!

Rubrics are fun in every language!

Rubrics are fun in every language!

 

 

Khaled and I--doin' the interpreter dance!

Khaled and I–doin’ the interpreter dance!

 

 

Mr. Mohammed and I laying the smack down on the terror of Al Bawadi--Grade 6.

Mr. Mohammed and I laying the smack down on the terror of Al Bawadi–Grade 6.

A & A--I smell Oud!

A & A–I smell Oud!

 

 

So, these are my colleagues. This is my new home. I feel blessed to have two homes, and all the trimmings that go with the concept of “home”. I am also blessed to have stepped in many rivers and been changed by them all…ok, all this talk of flowing and rivers…who needs a break? I’ll be right back.

3—Ok, much better! Ya see, I never really agreed with the quote. I love my hometown. It is a great place to live, and there are great people there. Sure, people get down on it and say really negative things hiding behind fake names and monikers in the newspaper’s online comment section (really, N-D? Require authentication, at least), but Michigan City is truly beautiful and there is opportunity for the creative and the positive. So, I always thought, “…why can’t I go home if I leave?…things will be the same, I’ll find the same people in the same places, and we all will be comfortable, and…well, home…” While all of this is true, it took this life changing experience of moving to the Dhabi for me to really “get” it.

Yes, I went home. Yes, it was really nice…but it’s not the home that you can’t return to, it’s the you that isn’t returning home. Make sense?

All rivers continue to flow…your hometown, your new hometown, and most of all, you. You return home with the knowledge of how things are and you find comfort in your accurate perceptions. However, while your eyes see the same things your brain has added new sets of experiences and thus, the sorting, comparing, and re-filing begins. The simplest thing, like a trip to the grocery store (the exact same grocery store you rode to bouncing around without a car seat or seat belt in the sofa size back seat while you played catch) becomes a new learning experience. Suddenly, you hear yourself… “oh yeah, I forgot about that” (15 types of peanut butter) or “THIS is the tea section? (compared to the tea aisles). Everything is now tainted, or enhanced, depending on your outlook, by the time you spent away…flowing.

4–So, on to luck…in which I no longer believe. I now prefer grateful to lucky. “I am grateful” attributes to a sender, as a gift. Maybe the gift is a result of the work you’ve done; or maybe you believe the gift is from a power higher/larger/more incomprehensible than you. Or maybe the gift is a result of both. Did you see Nick Wallenda walk across the Grand Canyon? You tube, my friends, youtube.

“I am lucky” occurs in a vacuum…and NOTHING occurs in a vacuum (this, I’m not smart enough to prove as the absence of a thing cannot prove the existence of another; but stay with me, please). You see, if you continue to attribute good fortune to luck, then you begin to believe you are a lucky person and you just deserve good things happening to you. Actually, you do deserve good things, but some of us might even get to the point of thinking good things will happen always—without something causing it. Let me warn you, my dear friends….bad idea. I was there. It just ain’t true. Bad things do happen (to anyone)…and there’s always a reason. (There’s a simplistic colloquial phrase for this, but it escapes me.) The hidden side effect of believing you are a “lucky” person is that you don’t attribute the positive things to who you are, and what you’ve done. You float along without belief…no belief in the value of you, and no belief in something greater than you…a very dangerous position, indeed. Dangerous, and lonely.

In grad school, I once had a “Community and the School” class. The whole semester hinged on a group project. Well, I lived over 3 hours and a time zone away from my group. We had to trust the others to do a great job on their portion….yeah right, right? Well, we had no time to rehearse the presentation and I was the anchor. I remember the frustration of watching my group bore the rest of the class. I was upset and frantic, and had to do something! Needless to say I hammed it up and they backed me up in the summary. When it was over, I thought, “well, that was a waste of time, that would never happen in the real world…” and I was happy to get the grade and get out. Of course, I have needed that exact experience more than a few times since. I wasn’t lucky or unlucky to have endured that; it was a gift. I am grateful, not lucky, to have had that experience.

Perception…60 degrees or -10…both cold, for different people… MC or the UAE, schools are shaped by community…hometown or current home, life is for living, not visiting, embrace it… “wax on wax off…paint the fence”, lucky lessons? I think not, Daniel-san. (Miyagi do Karate!)

5–One of my good friends reminds me of this Shakespearean quote all the time, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so…” And Hamlet, he would know. (If you don’t know the story, go ahead watch the Mel Gibson one, I won’t tell) All things that happen are lessons…opportunities to learn. Our obstacle, of course, is us. When our life is disrupted with…well, life. We have a choice. Do we search for blame and anger and revenge, or do we search for the meaning of it. “Why me?” really isn’t a bad question. It’s the way you answer it that determines your growth. If you always step in camel poop (gotta stay topical), it’s not because you’re doomed or constantly being punished, it might be a lesson to pay more attention to the steps you’re taking.

(picture of camel poop omitted…you get it, right?)

If things are going well and you’re asking “why me”, then look at what you can learn from it. I was in a serious “why me” situation and it brought me here. I had to fight myself to accept that I still had a lot to learn about me, and that I wasn’t lucky or unlucky, but I was fortunate. Believe me, I still struggle with it, daily. I am 7700 miles from my daughters, and my heart is in repair. Imagine the anxiety and panic and fear and doom if the sun didn’t rise tomorrow…that might start to explain the void I feel in missing my daughters. Though what I do with those thoughts are up to me. Think about it, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so…” Thinking is not the evil, our choice of thoughts is the evil. Go back to the camel poop. Try this you camel poop stepper-inners (oh, you get it, stop being a snob), “…hey this poop on my sandal is a good reminder to watch where I tread; not everything is clean and comfortable and good for me.” Yes, I’ve moved the example to a metaphor, I KNOW you saw it coming.

Sorry, if I wasn’t as humorous as you’d like. One reader told me I am getting too serious, and not as fun. This is me; it’s where I am right now, today. It’s been a strange month since we last shared…extreme ups and downs, and less resolve than I had hoped. Hugs are hard to find when you’re new in town, but all of this is a lesson in itself. (Cool side note; watching the Arab men around my school greet each other on the first day back was very touching, and genuine.)

Also cool is the practice of touching your heart after shaking hands and greeting. I love that! Try it. Touch your heart after you say hello or shake someone’s hand. It will change the greeting for you. Please, try it.

Life has given me many opportunities to absorb lessons I took for granted; suddenly it’s all coming together. Lucky? No, the seeming chaos of the universe organizes our lives and if we flow with it rather than stand and fight the current, then going home again isn’t so tough. In fact, with the right Mindset (read Carol Dweck, beeteedubs) going home (hometown or current home) again is like returning anew.

By the way…aren’t you wondering about the numbers? I’ve never done that before. Yes? You are? Really? Ok, here it is. There are only 5 stories ever written. They are:

  1. Man vs Nature
  2. Man vs. Society
  3. Man vs. Self
  4. Man vs. Supernatural
  5. Man vs Man

Go back…they correspond.

I have always been inspired by the story of the Phoenix. (Geez, that too? Go ahead, google it) I could never understand why it stuck in my head. Why did I need to know it? Why did it occupy so many dreams throughout my life? Luck or coincidence? No way, something way, way effin’ bigger. This Christmas, my dad called me The Phoenix in a card. It is the single greatest thing he has ever said to me. I love you, Dad.

Ugh! I thought I could hold it together for one darn blog!

Peace and Love and Thanks and Happy New Year,

Lee