Monday, January 26, 2009


I came home sick from school. I had to lecture sitting down during first period because if I stood up for too long I felt dizzy and faint, and my tongue felt all fuzzy when I talked. For a quick second I freaked out and thought I might be having a stroke. So I told the kids I needed them to give me a break today because I didn't feel good, and they behaved themselves without me having to use my cold-blooded psychopathic killer voice. I probably didn't have an episode, but if I could get away with telling people I had some kind of nineteenth-century brain fever, I totally would, so I'd have an excuse to drink claret in the daytime and be treated in my dressing gown by a handsome young doctor who makes house calls. What's more likely is that I ate something a little off. Glamorous and classy.
At home sick, I realize how much I don't like my surroundings - enough that I want to crawl down to the corner coffee shop with my Alice Waters cookbook just to get away from it all. Every remaining piece of clean laundry I own is dumped on the floor, because I couldn't get into the bed and recuperate with No Reservations clips if my entire wardrobe was strewn over the covers. Lots of bins of dirty laundry hunker in the corners. Kitchen sink inspires nausea, as does the bathroom, where I have been much of the day trying to combat that very sensation. EWW.
Last night at one of my four local Starbucks (curse you, caffeinated siren of world domination), I kinda lost it. My study buddy asked me what was wrong. "There's a bunch of dirt on the floor, these people put too many chairs at this table and then left sticky stuff all over it, this other table's too close to me, it's too loud in here, that weird guy is here and he is looking at me, those obnoxious hottie girls we see everywhere are getting on my nerves and I'm just really irritated with everything." I'm such a treat, right?
In truth, several of my self-image issues all collided at the same time, and I couldn't react with temperance. Yes, I've made progress in how I view myself, and even my study buddy agrees that I'm not such a hater towards myself or towards other women anymore. But it upsets me when all the safeguards I have against a self-image meltdown don't keep me from descending into bitchiness when a crowd of women all in sexy little outfits converge on my It's Better To Be Smart Than Pretty parade. (Real talk: No, it's not.) Yes, hot girls, I am that jealous slag. More explanation later, if I deem it interesting. This is the point at which I would usually scrawl 'WHORES' and then scuttle off to my lair of hate, but instead I think I'm going to take the Fug Girls' advice and put on some lipstick, then stagger down to the corner coffee shop for something restorative, of course with my Alice Waters homage-to-butter-cookbook in tow. Hey, don't hate me because I can sizzle in the kitchen and on the street.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

'namaste.' 'did you say NASTY?! HAHAHAHA!'

I had a pretty good feeling that the temperance experiment would not survive my return to work. Consider the good feeling justified. I teach English in a high school where easily forty percent of the population are disadvantaged - economically, culturally, linguistically, or socially. This has easily been the hardest thing I've ever done and I doubt I'll ever again intentionally take on anything that I know in advance will be this difficult. The last year and a half I have been to hell and back and to hell again, where I currently reside with the Great Satan's envoys Monday through Friday. While I bitch a lot about my job, I relish the challenge because I am a stubborn cuss, and I'm not about to let a bunch of punks stop me from doing what I know I can.
What gets me though, are the situations they bring to school. A foster home girl who threatens that she'll fight another girl from her home if the girl continues to spread information from my student's personal file to others who harass her about it. Could you blame her? Well, some of you could - and yet, she has had absolutely no training in how to settle an argument, retain pride, and avoid violence all at the same time. A boy who sasses me relentlessly, doesn't understand anything I explain in class, and doesn't do even the most fundamental things I ask him to do to help him understand me. Do I tolerate him, love him, care for him? I suppose I ought to. It's not his fault his loser mother drank while she was pregnant, but nor is it mine, and now I and twenty-nine other people, all of us with our own loads to bear, have to deal with his inability to behave himself in a classroom. I can't count the number of times I have screamed to the heavens once they've left the room, "God, kids, just let me fucking teach!" I punched a wall and must have broken a bone in my hand, because it still hurts every day, a physical reminder of how far I have let them intrude into my peace of mind. The bitching, while therapeutic, robs me of a temperate heart, but realistically, what else would my response be when I have to tell a child of fifteen not to stick a pencil into his veins, and then, explain why not?
I could go on so much longer. But I cannot afford to do that any more. With their hunger for acceptance, their lack of understanding, their desire for success, and their desperate need of a swift sharp kick in the collective ass, they could easily take over my life. I know when I've bored the family with too many anecdotes about the only thing I do lately. I adopted a cat, Theo, last summer and now I alternate between talking about work and talking about the cat, which is quickly losing its charm. (The talking, not the cat.)
This is not all I am. I am much more than my success at my job, such as it is. I have talents and sensibilities and knowledge I never use while I quash adolescent rebellion. So I've got to stop making the stakes so high. I went to a yoga class today and actively pushed all thoughts of the kids out of my head. I felt so delicious later - lithe, graceful, settled. Not in a year and a half has this happened. Well, not on a weekday anyway.
Hopefully yoga twice a week will have effects on both my body and my mind, including an increase of temperance. I've certainly noticed where I failed to show it, but woefully after the fact. My mission at work is to be more temperate in heart: less angry, more determined; less reactive, more even-keeled. There are moments when my royal bitch pants are called for, but I will try to determine more accurately when those moments occur. I will be temperate in how I respond to their behavior after they're gone. When I see the light in my foster home girl's eyes as she raises her hand, when I read the essay of the boy who has the courage to write about his struggles with a gang, when I read the poems of the girl who is learning the magic variability of a new language, I know I am capable of mastering myself.

Monday, January 19, 2009

tea and cakes and coffeespoons

I'm realizing that the prerequisite for temperance is mindfulness. In being unmindful, I managed to eat way more pizza last night than I should have, curse way more this morning than I should have, and inhale more crackers, Coke and taco truck quesadilla just now than I should have. I'm not going to beat myself up about it - but the thing missing from each episode is a presence of mind and apprehension of the effects of my actions that would have prevented those behaviors. Mindfulness is the only thing that reminds me of the reasons for my decision to modify my life. And it's not a bad way to live, being mindful! Look at Rilke's explanation of what it feels like to be completely mindful, in the least that's what I think this poem refers to, and if you don't like my interpretation you can go get an English degree and then come talk to me about it.

Sonnets to Orpheus
Part Two
Sonnet 1

Breath, you invisible poem! Pure
exchange unceasing between the great
ether and our existence. Counterweight
in which I rhythmically occur.

Single billow whose slow degrees
of ocean take place
in me; most frugal you, of all possible seas--
winnings of space.

How many parts of this space already were
within me! There's many a wind
like a son to me.

Do you know me, air, full of places where I
used to be?
You, once smooth rind,
roundness and leaf of my words.

Also a great Buddhist quote that I picked up at Dharma in the Dishes, the blog of a nice lady who adopted veganism and seems to have gotten much healthier in all sorts of ways.
"If while washing dishes we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way, we are not alive during the time we wash the dishes. We are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life. We will only be thinking of other things, barely aware. Thus we are sucked away into the future--and are incapable of actually living one minute of life. Every act is a rite of mindfulness." Thich Nhat Hanh
I always seem to be looking towards my next cup of tea, pinning my hopes and happiness on some nebulous future event. If I'd adopted an outlook like the one above, I probably also wouldn't have had such a sucklicious day, forgetting my wallet at home, driving half an hour to my parents' house, then driving all the way home and back again to get it, and using up half the morning grousing about it. Yes, you're not the only one. Any harebrained thing you've done, I've done you one better. If I hadn't forgotten my wallet, I might not have had such a pleasant conversation with my brother about foster children and education on the way back to my house.
I think the mindset of 'someday I'll have reached my goal' is what gets people off track in the first place. You can't look at your life as a means to an end goal. You can't wait until you do what you've been hoping to do to be happy and at peace. You have to be those things in the moment, all along the way. What you're accomplishing isn't the meaning of your life, nor is it the source of your joy.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

glotoncita? yo no!

My temperance challenge last night was not to eat or drink too much from my parents' wonderful kitchen, and I succeeded! Their dual income provides them with the means to buy the stuff of foodie dreams, and most of my visits involve being offered a caravan of leftover delights from the fridge, to which I always surrender. But last night, in the face of Chambord, port, and delicious chocolate cake, I was not vanquished. Usually I'd think to myself, "Cake! Wine! Celebrate! HAVE MORE!" But that's not celebrating. Celebrating means enjoying what's there. My desire to go back for seconds or to eat a whole pizza is a desire to induce a feeling of excess that really isn't enjoyable when I see what it does to my body. And eating for excess ends up devaluing both the food and the process of eating. So hopefully I'll be able to attain more balance with pleasurable things in the future.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

blogs. that's the joke - blogs.

What's good, Interwebs? I haven't seriously or regularly blogged in a long time, so what it takes to bring me back is the realization that I'm 24 1/2 and I'm not the person I used to be, nor am I the person I want to be. So here I am, to see if there's anything my computer can do for me in that department.
I can face facts - blogs were kind of a joke when I had one at the oh-so-enlightened age of 19. When it had been sufficiently long enough since my last post for me to point the finger and laugh at 'bloggers' without reminding people that I used to be one such ridiculous person, the internets went and changed on me again. Now it seems everyone's comfortable with online communication, webjournals, social networking sites, and support groups. Updating people on everything from the minutiae of the everyday to milestones of progress along intense personal journeys just won't get you the scorn it used to, unless you deserve it for some other reason. I'm here to see if I can break into this new old brave world and find what many others seem to find - meaningful communication.
I plan to post regarding the areas of my life I want to improve. It's not a place for me to make myself sound nicer than I am, but I also am not permitted to be unduly hard on myself. A little backstory about the method I plan to use to do this...
I teach at a Central Valley high school, and while discussing Benjamin Franklin's plan to become morally perfect by tallying up his offenses against a set of core virtues, I realized I was not one to be touting his importance. "We should all be so concerned with the state of our character, as Ben Franklin was, that we would pay such close attention to our actions" I intoned to the thirty-six impressionable children before me. And I thought, Well, if that ain't your garden variety hypocrisy, I don't know what is! I'm starting with his virtues, because I don't want to spend more time deciding on other ones if his are pretty much the same as your basic Western Philosophy fundamentals. Who am I to think I know better, right?
Here they are:
1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
3. ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
5. FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
6. INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ'd in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
8. JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
9. MODERATION. Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
11.TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
12. CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

This month's virtue is temperance. So we'll see how temperate I can be for the rest of this month. I'll keep some tabs on how it goes, and would love to hear from any interested.