rethinking priorities

Summer has officially ended, the fog is rolling in, I’ve entered the new school year both as a teacher and a parent, and after several months of silence I’m trying to get my words flowing again.

The title of this blog, No mo’ flow, was meant to be a somewhat ironic reference to menopause: ironic because the words flow where the menstrual cycle does no longer. Yet I have of late been stymied, blocked, dried up … the irony has been lost these past few months.

My creative energies have been directed elsewhere: to photography, to family, and to my teaching practice. The social justice issues to which I have dedicated so many of my posts have overwhelmed me, leaving me wordless. The shooting and protests in Ferguson, domestic violence and the NFL reaction, mega-drought and other climatic events, continuing assaults on women’s rights to health care, abductions and disease in Africa, beheadings and bombings in the Middle East — it’s more than my overloaded brain can comment on.

I wonder where my reasoning powers went. It’s as if my emotional responses drove all cogent thought from my mind, leaving me either sniveling or scrambling for escape. Perhaps menopause is rocking my world more than I let on.

And perhaps the down time is a necessary pause, leaving the plot fallow for future brilliance, letting thoughts simmer so they blend more harmoniously. One can always hope…

In terms of priorities, I choose hope. The downward thunk of my heart at the possibility of yet another war cannot erase the eternal desire for peace I carry deep within. My frustration with students who disrespectfully disrupt in favor of their own immediate needs and wants doesn’t chase away my belief that they might one day bring about the change our world clamors for. My knowledge that my daughter makes the earth she walks on a better place gives me satisfaction that I’ve contributed positively in a big way.

Art and beauty keep my hope alive in the darkest days of the news cycle. Franz Kafka said, “Anyone who keeps the ability to see beauty never grows old.” With all due respect, I would amend his quote to say “… never loses hope.” What became a trite campaign slogan in 2008 needs to be reborn in our spirit so we don’t lose ourselves in cynicism or escapism.

Here’s hoping for that silver — or golden — lining …

photo: afp 2014

photo: afp 2014

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new and recycled thoughts 2014

I’ve decided that a pause is a necessary thing: taking a breath, stopping to think, looking at the world from a standstill instead of always in motion.

The trick is to choose the right moment, the appropriate duration, and the best perspective from which to see.

Taking time out has its pitfalls. Some may have trouble returning to a rhythm after a break. Others may be too fidgety to get real benefit from a change of pace. I fall into the group of folks who can feel guilty when not productive or moving at a good clip … which is how I justify my occasional couch potato tendencies. I need to work out the guilt for doing “nothing” by practicing.

I’m not lazy by anyone’s standards. In fact, I accomplish a great deal in a limited amount of time. My fairly new boss likes to quote the theory that a task will expand into the time you devote to it, so having “too much work” makes us more productive and is thus good. I don’t dispute the effectiveness of forced efficiency, but at what price? Sure, we can keep working faster to do more, but the opportunity cost — to use one of the few terms I remember from freshman economics — may be too great. In my case, quality suffers: I do B+ work because too much has to get done in my deadline-driven world. But worse is  personal sacrifice as the job overflows the limitations of the workday. Family, health, and spirit suffer from inattention. Individual needs get out-shouted by the pressures of the modern world: job performance, insta-communication, city living, the middle-class squeeze.

I recently returned to my daily life from ten days in quiet, snow-filled serenity, and the culture shock was almost more than I could bear. People on the streets seemed angry. Drivers were more cluelessly aggressive than I remembered. Pedestrians had an entitled, “I dare you to hit me” attitude, leaping out as my bumper entered the crosswalk, forcing slammed brakes or a sheepishly mouthed “I’m sorry” as I whizzed in front of them. The pace of my workday hit me like a set of Encyclopedia Britannica (a reference the kids I teach would surely not understand). I nearly wept when I was thwarted at the pharmacy by poor customer service.

A few days later, I take it all in stride and wonder — a bit ashamed — at my fragility in the post-vacation flurry.

But now I think maybe the Fragile Me has a point: why should it be so hard? why are people so stressed out? why do we rush through the day, checking things off our mental, physical, or bucket list (because even the fortunate feel pressured to do, have, and experience more)?

I’m not big on resolutions and I rarely make them. But inspired by a friend’s resolution not to buy anything new for 6 months (besides food and things that don’t quite work used), I’m resolving to pause from my hamster-on-a-wheel routine, every day, in some way. These pauses will include activities like dancing, yoga, or mediation. Creative pursuits count: making a photograph or drawing, playing the guitar. Interruptions for human interaction also make the list: a phone call to a friend, a meaningful conversation in the hallway as I rush to and from the photocopier. I want to work small habits of humanity back into my task-filled days, to be sure I am making time for the life I want, not just the one that is expected of me.

I think 2014 is going to be an enjoyable year.

admiring natural beauty (photo: afp 2013)

admiring natural beauty (photo: afp 2013)