Tag Archives: Reflection

“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”

This is our last week of school and it’s hard. Saying goodbye is difficult and it’s not something I’m good at. I hold on for too long. I reach out for too long. I grow nostalgic before it’s even time to say goodbye and I let myself feel all the things I’ll miss before it’s time to miss them.

I’ve said goodbye enough times to know which stories will stick, which memories will make me smile and which will strike a chord that hurts a little bit. I’m lucky to have taught students who ask real questions, seek out real answers, and report back what they’ve learned. I’m lucky to have worked with truly good people who welcomed me with open arms and saved me from my darkest thoughts. I will miss them all.

This year was my sixth year in the classroom and the first year I considered seeking out avenues outside the classroom to satisfy my need to make an impact on the world. I’ve got a few more things I want to do in the classroom and we’ll see after that.

This is also the first year I let myself entertain the possibility of all kinds of change because this is year that nothing went as planned.

So I’m saying goodbye to good people, a good place, and the path I was following when I co-signed a lease for a New York City apartment a year ago. I’m thinking about the life I want to live going forward so that I can be satisfied when I look back in 100 years or so. What will I have done? What will I be proud of? What will I wish I’d known?

As my therapist says, “What does your 95-year-old self say to your current self?”

I needed this year because I needed time alone to think, to take a step back, and to make the decisions that make the most sense to me rather than the decisions that I thought others wanted me to make. I needed this year to prove to myself that I am capable of making those decisions and don’t need to rely on the opinions of others. Being happy is okay. Making changes to be happy is also okay. Putting oneself first is okay, too.

My 95-year-old self wants to look around and know that she’s touched lives in positive ways. She wants to see family and friends who are global citizens, who believe in the possibility of improvement for all, who work to help those around them realize a better, more peaceful, sustainable world. She wants to have taught students who are good people, who help others, and who harness their interests and skills to have a positive, meaningful, lasting impact on the world around them. She wants the people around her to know that they are loved, supported, and affirmed as members of a community. She wants nature alive and well, ecosystems thriving. My 95-year-old self wants clean air and clean energy; she wants peace, prosperity, and good health for all.

So what does this mean for me as I am now?

It means that I will continue to learn, read, write, and communicate my aspirations and ideas. It means that I will continue to educate because I believe that the next generation of leaders needs more than they are getting in schools today and I want to give that to them. It means that I am looking to surround myself with people who believe that we can build a world that is better, more peaceful, and environmentally sustainable as compared with today’s world. I want to be around people who push me to ask questions, find answers, and be the best person that I can be.

Change does not happen overnight and it does not happen without allies. Change requires teams with a shared vision and I want to be part of a team making a real impact. That’s what I’m working towards.

“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” –Hamilton

I hope to live my story and I hope to find people who want to live it with me. If that’s you, post a comment below or send me a message through the contact page. I can’t wait to meet you.

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Rainy Sunday

Today is cold, gray, and wet. I bundled up in my navy raincoat, plaid scarf, and flowered Doc Martens I’ve had since college and I was still cold. The air was full of the dampness that goes straight to the bones. After two years in Southeast Asia, I’m not so good at damp or cold. That’s going to take some practice. Nothing like trial by fire, right? (Except in this case it’s trial by rain.)

Today is also lonely. I woke up knowing I would spend the day by myself, which is fine when that’s what I want to do. When I want to be around people, engage in meaningful conversation, and share myself with others I find it very difficult to be in own company. That’s the kind of feeling I had today when I woke up, which took me by surprise because I spent almost all of yesterday with a friend.

I fought the urge to cuddle back underneath the sheets when my alarm went off just to shorten the amount of time I’d have to spend alone. But I’ve been down this road before so I know better than that. I forced myself out of bed and outside for a quick, cold, wet run. Did yoga to return some heat to my joints. Left the house.

That’s key. Leave the house. It’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of rumination and distasteful self-pity when alone in my apartment. When I’m out, even when I’m out by myself, there are people to watch, conversations to overhear, places to go.

Made my way to the library to pick up George Orwell’s 1984. I’ve never read it and although I’m in the middle of two other books right now (What Kind of Creatures Are We? by Noam Chomsky and How Happy Became Homosexual by Howard Richler) today felt like a “curl up with a novel” sort of day. That’s something I’m always happy to do alone.

And by alone I mean in the company of strangers and a cup of coffee at B Cup Café in the East Village.

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I certainly wasn’t the only one waiting out the rain with a hot beverage!

The music, atmosphere, and food options were good enough for me to order a second coffee and a breakfast wrap for lunch. Breakfast is delicious at all times of day.

That’s when I ran into the problem of what to do next. There’s only so much caffeine one can drink in a day. And I’m bad at sitting.

So I headed home. Stopped at the farmers’ market to pick up some things on the way. Put on Bon Iver’s new album (again). Thought about all the times over the past 12 months that I’d been lonely and told myself all that would end when I moved to New York.

Thought about how wrong I was.

On the bright side, I’ve had a lot of time to think. Time that I desperately needed. I don’t know whether I’m in a better place now than I was in August, but I do know that I’m in a different place. That’s definitely a step in the right direction, though I don’t know what direction that is.

Maybe this time alone will help me figure it out.

On Beauty

“Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?”

With that song playing in the background as I write this, I am struck by the sadness that minor chords inspire. It is that feeling of sadness that keeps me drawn to Lana Del Rey’s piece, which I recently learned was written for Baz Lurhmann’s 2013 adaptation of The Great Gatsby. I very often have a song in my head that echoes what I’m doing, where I am, or how I’m feeling. There are songs I associate with certain emotions, people, or places and they arise unbidden very much like songs on a film soundtrack. Ask me about it sometime and I’ll happily tell you what’s playing!

The refrain I’ve been hearing lately is linked above. I’m actively listening to it on repeat in an effort to get it out of my head and shut off the demons that come with it. But they’re insistent, which is why I’m writing this.

Beauty Then
When I was around fourteen, I walked by a mannequin in a store and sighed aloud that it would be nice to be a mannequin when I grew up. My mum and sister pounced on this and I defended myself by saying that I just wanted someone to pick out my clothes.

Admission: That wasn’t entirely truthful.

As a teenager, around the time I was seriously crushing on a boy or two or three, I was very conscious of how I looked. My eyeliner was too dark when I was finally allowed to wear it and I spent too much time worried about my non-existent hips and how my jeans made my bum look. Finding a bathing suit was torturous and I was never happy with my hair so I straightened it for a few years before finally cutting it all off to start over.

In high school, I would have described myself as “pretty” or “attractive” and maybe even “pretty attractive” on a good day. At the same time, I would have described all of my friends as “beautiful”. Being beautiful meant a lot of different things to me, even then, though it took years to develop the confidence to describe myself that way.

Being Beautiful
So what does it mean to be beautiful?

It means being creative and inquisitive. There is certainly such a thing as a beautiful mind.

It means being compassionate, kind, and caring. I’m lucky to know more than a few truly beautiful souls (stay with me for the moment, even if you don’t believe in souls).

Being beautiful also means being strong, healthy, and physically fit.

Beauty means happiness. A smile is just about everyone’s best feature, especially when it’s unexpected.

It means being able to listen to others and appreciate what they have to offer.

It means confidence. It means being able to stand in front of others unapologetically and express ideas, especially when people listening will disagree.

But bubbling underneath all of those examples of real beauty is the far more superficial and completely unattainable image of a supermodel. As Lana Del Rey asks, “Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?” According to that question, what matters? Youth matters. Beauty matters. That’s what yield love. Looking at pop culture, love is what matters.

You want love? You need to be young and beautiful.

Or so I thought.

The Shift
My conception of beauty underwent a fundamental shift during my first year teaching. I was teaching one section of a psychology elective and my department head and mentor was teaching the other. He suggested I show Jean Kilbourne’s documentary Killing Us Softly 4 (read about it here or purchase it here) during our unit on gender.

Jean Kilbourne discusses the ways in which advertising views women and uses ads that she has collected over the years to explore society’s obsession with physical appearance, thinness, whiteness, and youth. She argues that we have accepted cutting women into parts and displaying only legs or lips or torso, which dehumanizes women and leads to sexual violence. Kilbourne also delves into the role that Photoshop plays in creating an impossible ideal for both women and men.

Had I been exposed to such a stark analysis of the media and its advertisements in high school, I would have been a lot more confident in who I was rather than worrying about what I looked like. That is not an exaggeration.

As part of a follow-up assignment, my students and I started looking at ads. These already confident students at an all-girls secondary school brought in catalogues they received in the mail, constructively criticized the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show that was on that week, and put together a variety of pieces reflecting on their experience with the film. I don’t know for sure whether it changed their outlook on beauty, but I do know that it made them think about who they were and who they were told to be.

Beauty Now
It has been a while since I was first allowed to wear eyeliner at 15. My hair is curly and I don’t own a straightening iron, my favorite makeup item is purple mascara, and my jeans are comfortable. End of story.

The unnerving soundtrack in my head, however, still playing the Lana Del Rey song, has made it clear that I am not without insecurities. I am far more adept at seeing beauty of any kind in others than I do in myself. Maybe this is because I’m a lot harder on myself than those around me.

The chorus of the song ends with, “I know you will.” The irony is that she still had to ask, as many of us do.

Seeing myself as beautiful now, though it sometimes requires effort in self-compassion, means accepting myself as I am and for who I want to be. It involves living up to the ideal that I have created for myself as one who is continuously learning and acting to make the world a better place. Considering myself beautiful means placing the greatest value on how I treat those around me and what I do to improve the world.

Are you beautiful? You are, in so many ways. The beauty that actually matters does not diminish with age. If anything, it is likely to grow along with you.