Category Archives: Sadness/Anxiety

Cracking Writer’s Block with EMDR

Slide2

Thanks to Val Erde for letting me use this image. Click HERE if you’d like to use her images, too!

As a child, I was supposed to keep my room neat. My bed needed to be made the moment I awoke each morning; hospital corners were not optional. My clothes were to be folded and put away while they were still warm. Fortunately for me, I excelled at neat.

Screen shot 2013-04-20 at 2.16.10 AMI remember watching the 1976 Summer Olympics with my father. Sitting next to him on the couch, I wore a yellow leotard. He pointed to Nadia Comenici as she waved to the crowd after earning her first perfect 10.0 on the uneven bars.

“You see!” my father said. “Being perfect is possible.”

In my house, failing was not an option. No one told me it was okay to mess up. No one ever said people learn by failing, by falling, and getting up again, that it takes a different kind of strength to persevere despite sucking.

I learned that sucking brought misery. When I sucked at trigonometry, it meant I had to complete endless math problems written on the back of placemats at restaurants until the meal arrived. Feeling my father’s frustration comingled with his disappointment, by the time our food came, I often felt like vomiting.

“It’s not that hard,” my father would say.

But it was that hard, and I didn’t get it. And I hated feeling dumb.

I learned if I sucked at something, I needed to avoid that thing at all costs.

So I stuck to my strengths and only tried the things at which I could excel.

You want someone to sing or memorize lines? Awesome. Need a crafty-critter? No problemo. I can make pinch pots and macramé, turn beads and fishing lures into jewelry. Watch me sketch and draw and paint fearlessly in watercolors and acrylics and oils. Need a dancer?Check out my smooth moves. Seriously, I can hustle and shimmy and shake my groove thing. I can twirl and do pirouettes. I can do back-flips off the diving board and handsprings on the lawn.

images-1

There were 3 of these! Three!

In 2nd grade, Mrs. Church told I could write. She loved a story I’d written about a red-breasted robin, and she made me to read it to the “big kids,” in a different wing of the school. Later, Mrs. Oliver told me a poem I’d written moved her. It moved her. In middle school, Mr. Baron drew three big stars in my notebook next to the words “squishy red beanbag chair on the lime carpet.” Three stars.

I dreamed of being a writer.

In college, I received attention and praise, earned awards and validation from my professors.

I felt like a magician, able to amaze people with my words.

In December 2012, I found a writing partner. We worked together for six months, sending each other pages of our fiction manuscripts to read. We provided feedback for each other. I poured myself into her project, believing that – eventually, she would give mine the same kind of love.

Last May, I took a hiatus to prepare for my son’s bar mitzvah. My writing partner knew this when we started working together. I reassured her I would be back in the saddle after the festivities ended.

“I’ll be here, pardner,” she promised.

She promised.

When I called to let her know I was ready to start collaborating again, I caught the hesitation in her voice.

“I had so much momentum, I couldn’t stop! You know how that is, right?” she said. And then she told me she’d found a new person to work with.

My legs shook when I hung up the phone.

Besides feeling abandoned and betrayed, I felt like her actions said something bigger about my abilities as a writer.

The cosmos provided me with the words. I read between the lines.

My writing must have really sucked.

Because if it didn’t suck, she wouldn’t have been able to stop working with me. She wouldn’t have been able to put down my manuscript.

To make matters worse, my computer crashed shortly after my former partner dumped me.

I didn’t have anything backed-up, and I lost everything: twenty years of teaching curriculum, twenty years of photographs, decades of poetry and short stories.

A non-fiction manuscript. And a fiction manuscript.

Gone.

For most of my life, people have made me believe I could do magical things with words. But this past year, I’ve felt like someone took my black hat and my cape and my wand. Like someone stole my white rabbit.

Suddenly, what had always come naturally for me has became dreadfully difficult.

Recently I wrote about how I’ve been paralyzed with trying to be perfect with my writing. How some days, I worked 4 or 5 hours on a piece, writing 5,000 – 7,000 words.

And then I deleted everything.

Because every word sucked.

That’s how I ended up doing Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) with Vickijo Campanaro.

I’m not going to try to explain the theory behind this kind of therapy. Let’s just say EMDR is often used with individuals who have suffered major traumas, sexual or physical assault, combat experiences, accidents, the sudden death of a loved one: any kind of post-traumatic stress, really. But EMDR therapy has also been used to help athletes, performers and executives to achieve a state of “peak performance.”

If facilitated properly, EMDR helps people replace negative or stressful thoughts with positive ones.

Or something like that.

During my first session, VJ took a detailed history where we focused on what I perceived to be the major traumatic events in my life. I thought about the things I’ve been through in my 45 years on this planet and realized I had a lot from which to choose. She demonstrated a breathing exercise, which was familiar to me from my experience with yoga.

Then she had me hold these little buzzing paddles, which felt like cell phones set to vibrate.

Apparently, some therapists have clients track flashing lights but, over the course of her career, VJ said she’d found pairing the gentle, rhythmic buzzing from the paddles with conversation just as effective.

On my third session, Vickijo instructed me to put the buzzing paddles under my thighs, and she asked me to tell her about what I perceived to be my strengths as a writer.

I couldn’t think of one.

Not. One.

Unfazed, VJ asked me to close my eyes and describe a writer I admire. I thought about one particular blogger. “She can write about anything. She has amazing range: sometimes she’s funny; other times, she’s serious. She uses fresh images. She knows how to tell a story so it is unique and yet universally true. She responds to everyone. She’s generous, and her audience loves her.”

“You can open your eyes,” VJ said, so I did. “Do you think you possess any of the same qualities as this writer?”

I wasn’t sure.

Earlier in the session, I had talked about how much I sucked.

VJ asked me to think of an affirming sentence to replace my negative thoughts.

It was hard.

The voices were loud in my head.

“Let’s start with: ‘I suck,’” Vickijo suggested. “Can you turn that on its head?”

I closed my eyes and feeling the slow, rhythmic vibration of the paddles under my thighs, I saw myself sitting at a table, eating words. I literally ate the word ‘apricot’: chewed on it and swallowed, while my hand moved, scribbling letters inside a black and white composition notebook. I saw all the words I’d ever written in my life penned on a cozy fleece blanket and draped over my shoulders. I read the words I’d written on the lined paper.

“I’m a writer,” I said.

Except when I said it, there were eleventy-seven question marks at the end of the sentence.

“You’re a writer,” VJ said it as a statement. “And what does that mean?”

“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “For me, writing is like eating or pooping. I can’t not do it. Whether or not I ever publish a book, I’m always going to write. It’s what I do.”

Vickijo laughed. “And that’s because?”

“I’m a writer.”

When I said it the second time, I believed it a little bit more. Weird, right? I have a hard time explaining how or why it’s working, but it is. EMDR combined with 5 minutes of daily meditation has been doing wonders for me.

And my writing.

For CREDIT click HERE. It was VERY hard to determine the origin of this image, but i have done my very best.

I’m feeling less compelled to be perfect.

In fact, perfect hasn’t even been on my radar.

I know it sounds whack-a-doodle, but the science supports this stuff. It’s incredible to me to think we have the ability to reprogram the way our brains have been hardwired to think. If you have suffered a trauma — or any kind of anxiety — EMDR can really help.

A few months ago, I would have felt like a bad person because my bed isn’t made, I’ve got a sink filled with dishes, and very little food in the refrigerator.

But today? I’m soooo not.

Progress.

•••

Here’s a video I found on YouTube that does a good job explaining EMDR, if you are interested.

Have you ever heard of EMDR? If you’ve tried it, did it work for you? What do you think about the idea of reprogramming your brain to think happier thoughts?

tweet me @rasjacobson

Check out my friend, author Kasey Mathews’ post on her experience with EMDR. We’ve known each other for decades, she guest posted on my blog HERE, and can you believe we’re both having positive experiences with EMDR?

Advertisements

Lessons From Ants: Rebuilding After The Storm

photo from Jason Bolonski via flickr.com

Have you ever watched ants after a storm? They don’t stand around. There are the egg-movers and the sand-shifters. Maybe there are a few complainishy-ants who stomp their six legs or shrug their thoraxes, but I suspect ants just accept things. Their instinct tells them to get to rebuildin’.

It’s what they do.

By now, most of my regular readers know my last computer died in August.

If you are new here, you need to know I was stupid and didn’t have a single thing backed up.

But let’s go back to the ants, shall we?

Unlike ants that tend to construct what appears to be essentially the same structure after each storm, I realized (after a lot of crying) in being forced to start over from scratch, I was given an opportunity.

My blog was unaffected by the great crash.

Don’t get me wrong, I lost a boatload of unfinished blog posts that I had not yet uploaded to WordPress.

But as I waited for the new computer to arrive, I realized I could just keep going along as I have been.

Or I could use the opportunity to shake things up here, too.

Things Have Changed

Some of the information on my blog is not up-to-date. First of all, I’m not currently teaching. And while it hurts my head and my heart to call myself a “former teacher,” I have to get over that and face reality. Right now, I don’t have a classroom. Or students.

And helping my niece with her college essay last weekend doesn’t count.

(Or does it?)

When I started my blog, my initial concept was to create a place where education and parenting collide. I wanted to tell stories about great teachers and teachers who bit the big one. I wanted to share my favorite stories from the classroom from decades ago and explain what I was seeing in the classroom now.

I wanted people to know that on any given day anyone can be a teacher, and the guy with three PhDs can be the biggest doofus in the room.

And that worked. For a while.

But then I found I had other stories to tell.

Stories that were not education related.

And if they didn’t fit at Teachers & Twits, I felt compelled to post them elsewhere.

Like I could be funny at Ironic Mom’s or Jamie’s Rabbits. Or I could talk about the grittier aspects of my personal life at The Monster in My Closet or I Survived The Mean Girls. Or I could be naughty and expose my inner chipmunk at Go Jules Go.

And while guest posting has led to wonderful cyber-friendships, I want my blog to be the place where I feel like I can write about anything.

Last year, best-selling author and social media expert, Kristen Lamb, told me I needed to rename my blog. She even gave me the tagline! It went with the book I was writing and it would have allowed me a lot of freedom to write about anything and everything.

But I was scared.

I wasn’t ready.

The crash has provided me with time to think.

What do I want? How can I be better? What do I want my blog to look like? What are my writing goals?

I looked carefully at my blog and my content.

What Did I Learn?

  1. I’m terrible about following up on posts that could use follow-up.
  • For example, after I wrote Helplessly Hoping David Crosby Notices Me, something magical happened at the concert! Did I ever write about it? No! Why? I don’t know. I mean, I do. I was planning Tech’s bar mitzvah and time got away from me. And then it felt like it was too far away. But still, I think I should follow up.
  • Oh, and remember I’m Sorry The United States Postal Service Wrecked Your Christmas? I wrote that when the package I sent to my niece and nephew never made to them. Yeah, there was follow up there, too. And I should write about that. But maybe I should wait to tell you until it’s closer to Christmas. See? That’s what I do. I have to just write the piece and not worry about the timing of the post.

2. I need to get better at following up and linking up to people who inspire some of my posts.

  • Recently, MJ Monaghan wrote a piece about internet problems and shoes. And Mark Kaplowitz wrote about really expensive high top sneakers. And I just wrote about my new boots that are effing killing me. Well, I need to remember to link up to those people! But I forget. How do people remember to do that? I need a strategy. Meanwhile, feel free to check out these pieces now. Great writers., the both of them.

3. I need a hook. Something that people know is my thing. Something that I can write about all the time and that I can love enough to commit to writing about regularly. I have ideas, but I’m open to suggestions.

4. I can’t realistically post 3 times a week.

  • I am a very slow typist. It takes me a ridiculously long time to craft a post.
  • I am a busy mother and wife.
  • Over the last few years, real-life friendships have suffered because of the hours I spend sitting at the keyboard. I am a hard worker, but I need to nurture real-life friendships, too. And exercise.

5. I am fortunate.

  • I was able to afford a new computer.
  • My husband realizes how important my writing is to me.
  • My son is a miracle. He set everything up – including my new external hard drive — and I’m pretty sure he could earn a solid living right now by offering twits like me technical support.
  • So many people helped me during this difficult time. Kelly at Dances With Chaos offered to have her husband take a look-see at my hard-drive before I sent it to Temple, Texas where it is currently being checked for signs of life. Kathy Owen checked in with me regularly via Twitter and telephone to make sure I was okay. Amber West introduced me to Google Docs and has captivated me with a new project! Gene Lempp responded in great detail to a comment I’d left on his blog, offering feedback that has my mind churning. In a good way.
  • And El Farris of Running From Hell With El managed to dig up a copy of my fiction manuscript from before the crash and was gracious enough to send it to me. So I have a place to start with when I’m ready to start working on that again.

Nobody freak out, I’m keeping my URL.

No links will be broken.

I’m still rasjacobson.com.

But.

I’m also renée a. schuls-jacobson.

Welcome to my blog.

Come sit over here. I have cupcakes. 😉

Some other changes are a-comin’.

And I’m excited.

But nervous.

Like a wee ant, I am starting from the ground up.

So the task feels big and scary.

And I want to get it right.

I watched a lot of Laverne & Shirley growing up, and there were plenty of episodes where one or the other of them would end up crying over something that seemed monumental at the time, but that was actually not that big of things given the larger scheme of things. And one of them would end up singing to her friend, to remind her that she could do whatever it was that seemed insurmountable on that day.

I guess I’m Shirley singing to Laverne.

Or that ant singing to myself.

Or something.

I hope you’ll stick around and hold my cyber hand as I slowly roll things out.

I’ve already made a few, do you see them?

I’ll be making changes slowly over the next few years weeks.

I’ve got high hopes that the decisions I’m making are good ones. Maybe.

When’s the last time you squished an ant? Cuz they are pretty freakin’ smart. 😉

Tweet this twit @rasjacobson

Things are Breaking

In the middle of December, I pilfered some of my son’s leftover Halloween candy; I had been craving sweets, and his box of purple NERDS looked strangely enticing. I dumped the entire box in my mouth and proceeded to chomp down on the little pellets, which turned out to be grape-flavored rocks in disguise.

Seriously, those things were friggin’ ridiculous.

I had hoped for sweetness – and initially, they were sweet — but I was utterly unprepared for the unyielding, rock-hardness of those tiny artificially flavored stones.

I felt my teeth crunch against something unnaturally hard, but my sweet tooth was unrelenting.

At some point, it occurred to me that my particular pack of NERDS had come from somebody’s leftover Halloween candy from one maybe two years ago, and I just so happened to be the unlucky recipient of that box.

Nevertheless, I kept chewing until every last bit of tart purple goodness had been devoured.

Later, my husband came home after an unseasonably warm day. The world was clearly confused. There was no snow. The sky was blue and tiny flowers were trying to bloom in my garden.

My husband asked me if I had heard that The Pretty People had separated.

I hadn’t heard.

photo by Jordan Gillespie @flickr.com

I opened my mouth but there were no words.

“What’s wrong with your teeth?” he asked.

I stood in front of the mirror and stared at my teeth, or rather, the now missing parts: the pieces that had been there but that had disappeared at some point along the way without my even noticing it.

I started to weep.

Partly for my broken teeth, but mostly because of The Pretty People.

Early the next day, I made an appointment. I couldn’t wait to see my dentist so he could get his gloved hands all up in there and make things right again; it didn’t seem like it would be too hard.

But it was.

My appointment lasted over an hour during which time I lay back in the chair and listened to the dental assistant go on about another employee whose dog had recently run away, how devastated she was to have had him unexpectedly wander out of her life.

When the dentist finished shaping and bonding, I had two new teeth: nearly as good as the originals – but not exactly the same. I kept looking at them.

“Will they last forever?” I asked my dentist when he finished.

“They’ll be good for a while,” he said, “but once something has broken… well, all fixes are temporary.”

I thought of The Pretty People.

I’ve always assumed every marriage has cracks and weak spots, but that these minor imperfections are things we can excuse in our spouses. Short of infidelity or abuse, I’ve believed most grievances are petty things that we can forgive in each other because we all possess our own heinous fault lines.

I mean, on any given Thursday I want to strangle my husband after I have punched him in the throat and given him a Super-Atomic wedgie.

But Lord knows, my husband is a patient man.

It is January now, and I can’t stop thinking about the impermanence of things.

I can’t stop thinking of friends who are wrestling with health related issues; another friend whose son had to be airlifted from Bolivia to Miami to receive treatment for something doctors have not yet diagnosed. I am thinking about the dental office worker whose puppy ran away. And I am thinking about the Pretty People – their children, their home, their lives.

An eternal optimist, I’m hoping the best for all of them. I’m praying that a Divine Spirit will cure my friend’s tumors, that my friend’s son will miraculously turn around so that his father can stop worrying about diarrhea and measuring urine output. I’m hoping that The Pretty People will rediscover what they once saw in each other after a little time away from their daily routine. I’m hoping that dental assistant’s puppy will find his way home.

Also, I’m hoping that my new teeth will hold.

I know nothing is solid, but I suppose in matters of the heart I prefer the illusion to reality.

Up until that December day, my biggest worry had been getting my sugar fix.

Who knew I had it so sweet?

What has rocked your world lately?

Interested in entering the Create Your Own Super Hero Contest? Details HERE.

I Could Not Celebrate: So Kill Me

I know that Osama bin Laden is dead.

I was awake the other night when the announcement was made.

I heard President Obama’s speech and I got this weird feeling that the speech had been written for years and, like a dark Mad Lib, there were just a few holes left for the particulars to be filled in: a few nouns, a few verbs.

How does this help?

Yesterday morning I woke up and I saw all kinds of disturbing images peppering the internet: People screaming at a Phillies game; folks gathered in the streets of Washington, DC and at Ground Zero dancing and singing; Photoshopped pictures of Osama’s head being held by Lady Liberty. Pithy signs.

I felt a little squirmy.

This past Sunday we gathered for YomHashoah, a day commemorating the six million Jews (and others) who were murdered in the Holocaust. Obviously, Osama bin Laden wasn’t a leader who shared our western worldview, I know that. I have a friend who said: “Celebration in the streets is really unimportant either way in the great scheme of things. There are a select few historical figures whose demise is truly wonderful news for the world, and this is one of them — a man whose very existence was a threat to civilization. Ding, dong, the mass-murderer is dead.”

I guess I’m uncomfortable celebrating another person’s murder.

Aren’t we taught not to be joyful when blood is shed?

Proverbs says:

“Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice…” (24:17).

So what are we doing?

Really?

I wish that in his speech Obama had thought to caution Americans, to remind Americans that this is a time to act with discretion and with civility. Because the world is watching us. All this partying seems not to be very productive. More likely, it will simply add fuel to the fire. And it certainly will not do anything to end the “War on Terror” when many Americans look like college students on Spring Break: that is, students behaving badly.

I know that Al-Quaeda is responsible for the attacks on our own soil and so many other atrocities abroad. Still, all the screaming and celebration and nationalistic dogma is unsettling. I’ll leave you all with a quote from Mark Twain:

I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.

There is a difference about feeling quietly content about a desired result – the death of a person who openly declared war on another country and its people – and making a choice to bombard people with inflammatory images and mob scenes where groupthink is at play.

Let me be clear: I am not saying that Bin Laden was a good man. He was, in fact, and without a doubt a terrible, terrible person. He was like Hitler, okay. Evil. But the Torah teaches us that it is not right to celebrate when someone else is killed, even if they are our enemies. If you just celebrated Passover you should have read this in your Haggadah. As I understand it, this is why we take drops of wine out of our glasses as we read the ten plagues. This is why the angels were rebuked by G-d for celebrating too much as the Egyptians drowned when the Jews crossed the River and made it to the other side. We can be quietly pleased. We can be grateful. We can be respectful of all those who have died as a result of bin Laden’s horrible crimes against humanity. But “partying” when there have been murders committed, on any side, is just another evil.

For those of you who watch the dramatic series Dexter, you know that Dexter Morgan (Michael C. Hall) is a blood-spatter analyst for the Miami Metro Police Department who moonlights as a serial killer. All I know is that Dexter would have handled things a long time ago. Quietly. Discreetly. And he wouldn’t have been celebrating. There is a kind of sanctity to his bloody ritual.

To me, Monday was a little too much like Lord of the Flies.

I got lambasted on my Facebook page yesterday.

It’s okay. I can take it, and I know that others were a little uncomfortable with all the celebration today, too.

One last thing: Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violemce, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction… The chain reaction of evil-hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or we shall be plunged into a dark abyss of annihilation. -Strength To Love, 1963.

And this is just another of the zillions of reasons I love our county.

I can say my peace and have faith that no-one will haul me or my loved ones off in the morning to be tortured or raped or murdered.

Meanwhile how should teachers handle Osama bin Laden’s death? What kinds of statements would you want teachers to make or not make to their students?

Biting Off More Than I Can Chew

Photo by Dionne Hartnett @ flickr.com

Whenever I take on a project, where I am in a leadership role, where there are deadlines, where visible, public failure is possible – I get positively crazed. The desire for perfection makes me hustle to work, work, work – and in striving for perfection, the craziness kicks in.

This weekend I was grading essays. The. Entire. Weekend. You could not get me to stop. My husband came in at 2 pm and begged me to stop. My son came in at 3 pm and begged me to stop. They tried to stop me. They offered food. “I’ll eat when I am finished,” I said.  I couldn’t be stopped. I was . . . driven.

Thankfully, I don’t have this problem with shopping (or sex) because it is powerful and unstoppable, and it would likely land me in the poorhouse or, in the case of the latter, in a starring role in an episode of Californication.

Hours later, after I’d completed all the grading, I felt miserable that I’d neglected my family all day. That isn’t right. I will try to be more mindful about this in the future. For once, I’d like to be in the club, rather than always being the “leader of the band.”

The Empty Blue Desk

photo from Google images

Fall Semester 2009. Last year. He sat in the back row. In the only blue desk in a room filled with brown desks. He wore a button up shirt every day. He was quiet. Kept to himself. Initially, he was studious and handed in each assignment. His grammar was impeccable, his writing strong. He had a wry sense of humor and wrote about a time when he had worked in a Styrofoam factory. How the white stuff stuck to him, went up his nose, in his mouth, made him sneeze and sputter. He learned quickly he didn’t want to ever work in a Styrofoam factory. We all laughed when he read his piece aloud. Not at him: at his material. He was funny.

I expected great things. In fact, I was so sure he was going to produce great things, he kind of fell off my radar.

About six weeks into the semester, we hit the argumentative research paper unit, and he started to fall apart. He didn’t hand in his intentions for his topic, thus he never had a topic approved. I worried because he didn’t seem to be moving forward. While other students worked on paraphrasing and interview questions for their “experts,” he sat still in his blue chair, looking stiff and uncomfortable.

Finally, I asked him to stay after class. I went to his desk. I asked him if he had started the research paper. No. Did he have a topic? No. Did he need help selecting one, I implored. It was not too late. No. Could I help him? No. Would he let me know if I could help him? No. That was the one that stopped me. Chilled me, actually. No? I tried to look into his face, his eyes for something, but he was looking down, angry at being detained, at the questioning.

“You won’t contact me if you need help?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

I tried to explain to him that up until the research paper, he had an A — the only A grade in the class! He shrugged, underwhelmed. I told him he could still save his grade, the semester, but without the research paper, it would be impossible to pass, especially since he had not met any of the deadlines during the process. I told him I was worried about him.

“Thank you,” he said quietly. “I understand what I’m doing.”

The next day I received an email from Records and Registration that read:

We regret to inform you that we have been notified of the death of one of your current students (name here, and student number). We have noted this in the student information system so that all parties reviewing the student’s record will be informed.

Please make the appropriate notation in your records.

I was stunned. The appropriate notation? Was there a code I was supposed to put in my book? “D” for deceased? “S” for suicide? I knew I had to have been among the last to speak with my student. I replayed our conversation in my head endlessly. “I understand what I am doing” suddenly sounded much more ominous. I had missed it. I had missed a strong student’s decline from excellence into despair. Something was going on with him, and I had missed it. Maybe the better notation was “IF”: I. Failed. Or IF I had only known.

Later, I learned that my former student’s chosen method was to wrap his car around a telephone pole. He had been driving very fast. Very intentionally. He understood what he was doing.

Meanwhile, I was devastated. None of my students noticed the sudden absence of their classmate because students come and go all the time at community college. People drop out for many reasons: job or family obligations, financial issues, poor grades, poor attendance.  I spent the remaining weeks of the semester staring at that lone blue desk amidst the sea of brown desks and felt desperate.

I have had former students die – through illnesses, accidents, even at their own hand — just not during the semesters I taught them. Last year’s experience was a first for me. I have long known that I cannot transform them all into English teachers (nor would I want to), but I guess I always thought out of all their teachers, I would be the one they might come to if they needed help. I would be the one they would choose.

Last year, I learned that was a ridiculous idea, and that I cannot save them all.

What My Fingernails Know

photo by rocket ship @ flickr.com

When every fingernail on both of my hands has broken, I know it for sure: summer is over. It happens to me every year over a two or three-day period. It’s a physical thing; parts of me grow brittle and fall off. Long before the leaves ever change to yellow or orange, my body knows: autumn is in the house.

There may be a rogue “warm day” where the temperatures skyrocket into the 70s. Children put on their shorts and short-sleeved t-shirts. Folks celebrate, go for bike rides and walks in the park. And while I, of course, appreciate the warmth, the glow, the sun in my eyes, I know it is all an elaborate ruse.

The corn has been harvested. My clematis has withered and turned brown. And because I am perpetually cold, I am the first to pull out “the winter bin,” which holds all the hats and scarves and gloves. And once this curly-haired girl puts her hat on, it stays on. Until April. My closest friends know this about me – that I wear hats for about half of the year – but I have to explain myself to each new batch of fall students.

I tell them that I am a summer girl, and while I love the change of seasons – apple picking, pumpkin carving, Halloween and snow-skiing – deep in my bones, I will forever long for those years in New Orleans, Louisiana, where summer was eternal and stretched well into November, sometimes beyond. I tell them that every boy I ever really loved I met in the summer, and it is hard for me to let go of the sun and heat of my youth; that each year, like some weird woman disguised as a tree, I actually feel myself growing a little older, that instead of rings around my trunk to reflect my age, I collect wrinkles around my eyes. Each September, I lose a little of my fashizzle, my sparkle, my shine. It comes back. (It always comes back. It just goes underground and hibernates with the raccoons and the bears for a few months.)

Some of them claim to understand.

(Some of them tell me there is medication I can take.)

Some of them tell me summer isn’t over yet, and that there are sure to be plenty of pretty, warm days ahead.

I don’t care what the calendar says.

My fingernails don’t lie.

It’s fall.

Breaking Up With A Friend

photo "Sindone Days" by _ankor@flickr.com

Our friendship started just short of ten years ago, when our sons gravitated towards each other at Gymboree. It was almost as if each knew that the other was an only child, and while one was mobile and the other was not, they managed to stick pretty close to each other, climbing over mats and across obstacle courses. Of course, she and I were immediately drawn to each other – two young mothers appreciating how nicely our children played together. We were amazed to discover our similarities: we had both been English teachers and attended colleges in the East. One of her sorority sisters had been a friend of mine in high school; their financial guy was someone I’d known in high school. Like me, she loved horses. And books. We’d both played the flute.

Over the weeks, months, and years, she became the best friend I ever had. Pathological as it sounds, except for when she packed up her station wagon and went to her place in the mountains for five excruciating weeks each summer, not a day went by where one of us didn’t call or see the other. We went grocery shopping together and bathing suit shopping together. We ate lunches at her house and dinners at mine. And I never tired of her. Ever.

As the boys’ grew older, her son grew heavier while mine grew lean. Hers preferred to stay in his pajamas and watch television while mine was up and at ‘em with a “sproing” in his every step. We tried to hold them together – even forced them to play together – but theirs was a friendship born out of our desire for things to stay the same.

"slowly withering away" by megyarsh @flickr.com

One day, I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but I realized our friendship was unraveling. Once, we had once joked that we were Frog and Toad, the infamous amphibian duo created in a series of children’s books by Arnold Lobel, but suddenly, it just didn’t feel good anyone. Actually, that isn’t quite true. It wasn’t sudden at all. There had been a series of transgressions on both sides. Years of hurt feelings that had never been addressed. What makes relationships end?

One cold, gray day, in the midst of my internal drama, I visited the tailor to have a few dresses altered. It was an errand that had been on my to-do list for a long time, and I felt good about finally taking the action step. I pulled my turtleneck over my head and alternated from one outfit to the next as the tailor marked the soon-to-be new hemlines with a special chalky-white line.

That night, as I went through my regular routine – brush teeth, wash face, remove watch, remove earrings – I realized one of my earrings was missing. They had been a fabulous pair, antique looking and sparkly, with just the right kind of clasp to keep them from slipping out of my ears. My friend had bought them for me years earlier, and the gesture showed that she knew me perfectly: my taste that favors pretty, old, one-of-a-kinds over anything hip and new and now; she even understood my quirky earlobes that refuse to retain wires or studs. Purchased for no good reason, they were simply “just because,” and I had worn them every day for years.

That night, I barely slept. I was sure somewhere on that tailor’s floor my earring was camouflaged amidst straight pins, stray threads, and lint. Early the next morning, I called the tailor, a stout man who spoke broken English with a heavy Russian accent. He shouted “no understand” and hung up on me. Pulling on my winter coat, I returned to his shop and got down on my hands and knees, searching frantically for my favorite earring. I showed him its lonely partner, cupped in my palm, and he looked through the lost and found pile, cluttered with other people’s lost trinkets. When he gestured toward the vacuum cleaner, I jumped at the chance. Of course, I reasoned, the earring had been sucked up inside the vacuum cleaner. I confidently ripped open the dusty bag.

It wasn’t there.

As the tailor’s door shut behind me with a thud-slam, I knew it was gone. Yes, the earring, but also the friendship. I had to stop searching for it and let it go. Buddha said: “There is no peace in the world until you find peace within yourself in this moment.” I am not angry with my old friend; there is nothing to forgive. No one did anything terrible, but our relationship had become something confused for friendship. I’d be lying if I said the loss wasn’t difficult. Detox is never easy; ask any addict. And she and I, we had a ten-year habit.

On Being Excommunicated

"sola" by Alessandro Pinna @ flickr.com

I am trying to understand disappearance. When a person chooses not to communicate, does it mean that person is busy? Could they be on a vacation overseas? Could it have been something that I said, or did I say nothing when I should have said something?

Because here I am walking around thinking everything is right in the world, that every baby born for the last six months has had ten fingers and ten toes. I thought the rain in the forecast meant the grass was growing, that the chill in the air meant pumpkins, not the end of something.

When a person chooses not to communicate with you, that person holds all the cards, all the power. There is little for the excommunicated to do but look at the sky but wonder and try to determine how it could be so blue, cry a little – alone, maybe – in the car, but put on a happy face, as if being forgotten does not hurt like a hundred bee stings, or the bloody scratch from the extended claws of a trusted cat.

Could it be that the person has decided that you are not, in fact, worth the effort – and has left you to figure it out? If that is the case, I am slug-slow at “figgering” and would prefer, like a racehorse with a broken leg, to be put out of my misery more cleanly. In this case without a bullet, but perhaps the words, “In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m already gone.”

How have you dealt with the loss of a friendship?