Hanging My Worries on the Willow

A string of worries hanging from the willow.

One of my most common school anxiety dreams is that the semester has begun, and I don’t get there until a few days or weeks or months in to the semester. Things have already begun without me. Other teachers are running the class. I basically have no idea what is going on.

One of my most common recurring dreams about doing my inner work involves discovering rooms or places filled with things that I have somehow inherited.

Last night’s dream includes both elements:
I am a couple weeks late to begin a new teaching assignment in a middle school. When I get there, the substitute is a man, a college professor, who is teaching them as though they understand deep literary critique, referencing obscure writers and texts. There’s also an assistant in the classroom, and she is sitting in the desk at the front of the room while the professor teaches.

I don’t really introduce myself when I come in, but I put on an audio story for them to listen to. It’s engrossing, very literary, and sort of mysterious. The kids and the other two teachers are immediately into it. Meanwhile, I start to clean up the two desks at the front of the room. The previous teacher left all her stuff, and the surface of the desks are covered with knick knacks. I actually want to look at each one and decide which ones I will keep. It’s kind of an exciting process. Underneath the desk are little hidden drawers and doors, and dozens of keys!

The story ends just as the children are to be dismissed for the day. I thank the other teachers, and tell the children we will have formal introductions tomorrow. I’m eager to meet them, and they seem ready to take me on as their teacher.

I am not nearly where I want to be in terms of fall planning. I’ve let my anxiety keep me whirling in a tornado of what-ifs, and I’ve found myself unable to focus on plans. This year demands stronger plans with more options, so I need to get myself together, and not show up to the party late. If I am to really connect with my students in this season, I need to leave the professor at home, and keep reeling them in with captivating narrative.

At the same time that I have not been getting a handle on the actual nuts and bolts preparation for the semester, I have been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me and Stamped by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi, the teen version of Kendi’s longer work Stamped from the Beginning. I think there are all sorts of inner doors and drawers that I am finding access to in the wake of these texts, new ways to frame how I can teach in antiracist ways, not self-consciously layering discussions of racism into literary discussion, but letting a deeper knowledge of US history infuse the ways I lead discussions about texts.

I’m not sure what the tchotchkes on the surface of the desk represent, unless it is simply that in the midst of my anxiety about opening school, I am looking forward to exploring all the little shining things that represent the everyday school experience.

A couple days ago, during a video-call, a cousin of mine exhorted me to be aware of how my worry affects me, to consider ways that I might proactively deal with the anxiety I am experiencing. He suggested giving myself one day a week to worry, making a list of the things my brain wants to worry about, and then checking in with the list on one day a week. Chances are, some of those worries might have evaporated week to week. Of course, the worry about school just gets bigger and bigger, but I am really moved and inspired by the encouragement to lay it down a bit. And yesterday, my pastor’s sermon was in a similar vein.

I need rituals to mark the inner work that I am doing, physical representations of the energies I am trying to shift. So today, I am going to meditate a little about the school worries, and then I am going to choose some ribbons to represent the things that most frighten me, and hang those on my willow tree. She is strong, and also not rigid. She flows. She listens well.

I can’t change the decisions that my school and my son’s school are making. I can be vocal about the safety issues that I see, asking for accountability to strong safety measures. In the end, unless I choose to strike or quit (which I just can’t do because I love my school and my administrators and teaching), I need to simply buckle down, do what I can to keep myself and my students safe, and find joy in the experience of reconnecting, of opening those little drawers and doors, of finding the right keys, of discovering the shiny things that will be part of everyday life back at school.

If you pray, if you do magic, if you work with energy, work prayers and magic and energy for our safety, please. For all the teachers and the students, for our families.

Gratitude List:
1. Social media posts about people’s food preservation. I haven’t done any of that this year, and I don’t plan to, but I can look at the beautiful rows of my friends’ canned beans and pickles and relish. I can see the binsful of corn transformed into baggies of golden sunshine that will wait in their freezers for winter. This makes me happy.
2. Kittens
3. Learning to push my body past its initial inertia, to get on the bike, to pedal even when its hard going.
4. Beloveds who remind me to deal with my worry and not just leave it lying around where it can keep pouncing on me.
5. Messages from dreams.

May we do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly in Beauty!

“We should ask ourselves: Do we know what enough is inside of our lives? Once I know that, it’s much harder for capitalism to catch me, right? Because I’m not susceptible to this constant sale of myself or my soul to any other force.” —adrienne maree brown

“I hold the line, the line of strength that pulls me through the fear.” —Peter Gabriel

“Children grow into the intellectual life of those around them.” —Lev Vygotsky

“It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.” —James Baldwin

“Three things cannot be hidden: the Moon, the Sun and the Truth.” —Gautama Buddha

“Those doing soul work, who want the searing truth more than solace or applause, know each other right away. Those who want something else turn and take a seat in another room. Soul-makers find each other’s company.” —Rumi

“Going within is the only way out.” —Toko-pa Turner

“What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous.” —Thomas Merton

“Let me fall, if I must. The one I will become will catch me.” —Baal Shem Tov

“The sky itself
Reels with love.”

“That’s a tough spirituality. That’s not any kind of sweet-by-and-by spirituality. That’s a spirituality that takes on the world as it is and says, ‘I’m gonna figure this out one way or another.’ The mystic and the Moses.” —Vincent Harding (On Being interview)

“May you know the fearlessness of an open heart. May you never meet anyone you consider a stranger, and know that no matter what, you are not alone. May you have compassion for others’ suffering and joy in their delights. May you be free to give and receive love.” —Sharon Salzberg

“In our culture, we use the word ‘dreamy’ derogatively to describe someone who is unrealistic or without ambition. But what thrills and amazes me about dreamwork is how truly grounding it is. One of the reasons this is true, is because dreams are expressions of that larger ecosystem in which we are embedded, and which has a design for our lives within that greater context! So rather than taking our cues from consensus culture, instead we are listening to the mystery which combines us. As Jungian analyst Ann Bedford Ulanov puts it, “the Self is that within us that knows about God.” —Dreamwork with Toko-pa




the crows remain aloft,
daring the sky to toss them higher,
calling each other through the gusts,
daring the air to throw them through branches.
Shall we be crows, too?
Instead of expecting the breezes to gentle us tenderly,
shall we surf the gales with that fierce joy?

Gratitude List:
1. The foxes of Skunk Hollow, and getting a chance to see that flash of orange, that bottle-brush tail, streaking across Cabin Creek and up into the bosque.
2. Professional development opportunities are available everywhere.  Yesterday, because I had a day off, I got to be the parent helper in first grade at Wrightsville.  I helped them write short paragraphs.  It was incredibly informative to see how writing and language arts are being taught in first grade, how some kids get it right away and others struggle to organize their thoughts.  I am really delighted with the competence and compassion of my son’s teacher.
3. Kale for lunch.  I can take a little more time with my lunches on days off.
4. That little willow tree.  I love watching it become its own person.
5. Watching the mesmerizing movement of the trees by the pond during yesterday’s big wind.  It looked like there were layers of wind going opposite directions, and the trees were moving with such intensity, I thought they had to break off, but they had enough flexibility.

May we walk in beauty!

Green Willow and Golden Fish

Infant leaves and developing catkin on the little willow tree.

Gratitude List:
1. Willow trees. The bark of the tiny new willow by the mint patch went a vibrant yellow green a couple weeks ago, and now, all of a sudden, the leaf buds have burst open, and tiny leaves and catkins have appeared.  I love willow trees, and this gangly youngster has begun to stand straighter and more confidently since last year’s wobbly beginning.
2. A great golden fish.  We went walking and exploring by the pond yesterday after school, and had our first spring sighting of Golda, Lady of the Fish.  I am always so relieved in spring to see her, so grateful that she has survived another winter.  Of course, I know she is adapted to live and thrive through the cold, and she will likely outlive me (some koi live over 200 years), but I always worry just the littlest bit.
3. Senior Presentations.  My seniors in my advisory group are nervous about their presentations tonight and Monday.  I gave them a positive and hopeful pep talk yesterday–I hope they couldn’t see how nervous I am, too.  I want these moments to become powerful and rich memories for them.  I want to bless them as they step forward into the next phase of their lives.  I am so proud of them.  I know that they struggle to understand why we make them do this process of presenting their lives and learning to the community, but I love it, offering them this moment to reflect on what has brought them to this moment in their lives.  Fly well, Bright Ones!
4. Not being sick.  I felt so terrible last night, I went to bed at 9:30, hoping to stave off whatever cold or ick-thingie was trying to make a home in me.  It seems (knock on wood) to have worked.
5. Elderberry syrup.  I am following up that good sleep with some of Tabea’s good elderberry syrup.

May we walk in Beauty!

Assessing the Damage

Today’s poetry prompt is to write about damage.  I have let it go until very late, and I am feeling a little under the weather, so it’s going to be a quick-ish thing:

The week after the whirling winds
twisted the house like toys and tossed
them in pieces all around someone’s neighborhood,
scattering debris across the cornfields
like some strange new crop,
we drove out to see the scene,
to assess the damage.

Numbly, the people were picking
through the wreckage of their lives,
holding out their hopes for one family photo,
one undamaged antique china cup
left untouched by the capricious winds.

Just so, when the winds have torn through a life,
we need to witness, to wander through the scene,
grasping what we can salvage with both hands
and holding the scraps and mementos
against our still-beating hearts.

If some day, one of us sees the other one
holding the shards of a dream
or the sodden mess of a hope,
let’s plan (now) that we will step
from the safe vantage point of ourselves
and help each other search
for that one thing that remains whole.


Gratitude List:
1.  Third Quarter Grades are complete and submitted!
2. I am so glad that I chose to submit work for the Spoken Word Festival again this year.  I love to soak up the energy of poets and wordsmiths.
3. The life of my Uncle Paul, who made his crossing this morning.  The grieving and letting go has been a long, long journey.  I will remember his delight in light and art and photography.  Prayers of blessings and comfort to his family.
4. The willows have begun to put on their lacy veils.  The maples in the woods are all over in red buds.
5. Wind flowers.  The anemone have risen to take the place of the crocus.

May we walk in Beauty!


What an interesting word, that.  One of those that loses some of its value in its overuse.  Over-spoken and Under-thought, perhaps.  Today, my gratitude list is about Breath-taking Views and Scenes.  Places that make me pause in wonder.  That take my breath away for a moment.  But the act of noticing beauty also gives me breath, sustains me for the often difficult practice of compassion.  Breath-giving.

Gratitude List–5 Breath-Taking and Breath-Giving Views that I Noticed Today:
1.  The early spring view off Mount Pisgah, down over the bubbles of hills toward the River.  Green is spreading, but the leaves have not yet hidden the view.
2.  Heading East on 30 across the Susquehanna, looking toward Chiques Rock, with trees along the River frosted white from the morning mist, the poles along the railroad tracks sticking up blackly among them, and the charcoal grey hill and rocks rising beyond.
3.  A small oak tree, with its leathery leaves still clinging on, in a stubbly corn field, surrounded by tall yellow grasses like wheat.
4.  The very old stone house near the mall–probably once a mill?–surrounded by bone-white sycamores and weeping willows just beginning to don their spring green petticoats.
5.  Great blue herons patiently winging through blue sky.  Primal.
May we walk in beauty.

I realize my list is treeful.  Trees people my consciousness and my heart.
Soon the green will come. . .