Monday, February 27, 2006

Shamrock Shuffle

I will be participating in a 5K walk to raise money for kids in poverty around the world. Over 30,000 kids die every day, mostly from hunger and preventable diseases, so I've set a goal for myself to raise $1,000 to help World Vision's efforts to relieve both the immediate needs of the kids and to address the root causes of their poverty. (I know it sounds like I copy/pasted that sentence in from a website somewhere, but I actually wrote it. I'm pretty familiar with World Vision and I'm really comfortable with the way they spend donors' money. Otherwise, I wouldn't ask you for it.)

Additionally, my friend Michael is trying to get a new program up and running called Team World Vision, which is trying to make it easy for other athletes like me (did you catch that funny right there?) to raise money for these kids while running the races that they are already intending to run. So, my participation in this race will raise visibility of the new program.

So, I will be walking in the Shamrock Shuffle on Sunday, April 2. Apparently, many of the walking participants are also drunk, but I don't think that I will get to do that while wearing a World Vision T-shirt. It should be fun, though.

I want to ask you to consider three things:

1. Please consider sponsoring my participation. My goal is $1,000 so $25, $50 or $100 would make a sizable dent in that goal. Of course, if this opportunity to help kids causes you to want to give more, please go ahead and do so. The best way to sponsor me is to go to my secure website.

2. Please consider walking with me on my team or running in the 8K version of the race. Although registration for the race is closed, they are extending the deadline especially for Team World Vision participants. We have until this Friday to get in hard copy registration forms, so let me know as soon as possible if you want to do this. The website for the Shamrock Shuffle is, strangely enough, I hear the after-party is pretty cool.

3. Please consider sending a link to anyone you think might be interested in the mission of World Vision, either by sponsoring me, participating in the Shamrock Shuffle or participating in future races. I certainly don't understand what it is about running that appeals to runners and triathletes, but I know they are out there and I guess that they, too, should get a chance to do this good work. :-)

Thanks for thinking about it.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Bus Stop

I'm experiencing some instances of smile-and-the-world-smiles-with-you and it's kind of fun. This morning I was walking to church and neared a group of some homeless guys on the corner. I started my hesitant gearing-up-to-ignore-vulgarity-but-trying-to-stay-open-enough-in-case-they-turn-out-to-be-human face. And they smiled and asked how I was. I smiled and said I was well and asked how they were. They were also fine and smiled and waved as I kept walking. I actually think maybe my hesitant face had a little more joy in it this morning than it usually does. As I got to the next corner, the bus was pulling up alongside the curb and the same two homeless guys got off the bus and exclaimed, "Hey, here you are again! It's good to see you!" We all laughed and I went on to church.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

City Vignettes

I got in my first city stranger conflict a couple of days ago. It was strangely island-style because although the girl was a bitch, it was like she knew the whole thing was her fault and acted pretty guilty as she yelled at me the whole time. (Here are a examples, just as reminders if you're interested.) However, unlike island encounters where I felt like community was advanced because we had simply added another thread of interaction to the web, this just left me feeling jittery (after my massage, no less) with the adrenaline that was coursing through me. So, I was parking in the parallel spot near my apartment. It was the spot on the end, so the area in front of my car would usually be wide open. That night, a big mini-van was sitting all skewed to the sidewalk with people in it, just waiting for something. So, I treated it just like it was another parking spot and pulled up alongside the mini-van in order to back into the spot. I knew it would be tight, but I figured that once the driver saw me, she would pull forward a little. Well, she didn't and that was fine; I would still fit. I proceeded to park and I bumped her car twice. No big deal. Happens all the time. But, she gets out with her Urban Outfitters look blaring and walked past her Indiana license plates so I roll down the window and smile at her and say something mildly apologetic about just trying to get parked. She starts raging about how I've "rammed" her car. I told her I didn't mean to ram her car, I was just trying to get into the spot. "Well, you could have asked!" I stayed conversational through the whole affair and said in an almost bewildered tone, "I was a little surprised when you didn't pull forward when I pulled up alongside you." At this point, she starts sputtering a little and that was when I realized she was venting some other problem at me as an easy target because realization of her own responsibility flooded her eyes but she just kept yelling, saying something else about hitting her. Remembering her license plates, I shrugged my shoulders and said, "That's just parallel parking in the city." She said, in that pretty-college-girl tone of voice, "You're a f---ing rude bitch, you know?" I just shrugged my shoulders again. Then, oddly she starts pointing to the no parking sign that I'm well behind and she's definitely in front of and starts threatening to have my car ticketed. The sputtering at this point increased, I think because she realized that technically, she was illegally standing and blocking a legal parking space. She then stalked back to her mini-van. I wrote down her plate number and went calmly into my apartment building. It was a little like an island fight, but there's no reflection inspired. This doesn't build community. I don't learn anything about myself or someone else that I might have a deeper relationship later. It's just ugly.

Today, I watched the 5:00 CBS news and the 9:00 WGN news because I had been interviewed by both stations regarding the volunteer project I was supervising. I had 40 teenagers in my warehouse today as part of the service project element of their 30-Hour Famine, which is a project to raise money and awareness about world hunger. It was a good media event, so the two stations came by. Both interviewers seemed surprised and a little appreciative when they told me that I did well after the interviews. I had a little coaching by our marketing staff about restating the question when I answered to create a sound bite and about using the company name as much as possible. The marketing staff also gave me a fact sheet to refer to for statistics and stuff. I was not savvy enough to stand in front of boxes with the corporate logo, but, hey, you've got to leave some room for improvement, right? Actually, one of the marketing staff was there and she said I did a nice job. See Dad, all that money spent on performance education was worth something. Unfortunately, neither program aired the segment, I think because basketball games ran into overtime for both. Too bad.


I walk by a used car lot on my way to work. Yesterday, a tan Buick that had to be from the late 80s with a fair amount of rust and small dents proclaimed itself in white paint on the windshield to be, "GAS SAVEY." I thought that to be quite funny.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

I've Got Tears in my Ears

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stiched with its color.

-W.S. Merwyn, "Separation"

Is it OK to cry about a place that is gone? I've cried so much in the last three years over a person that was gone, I'm wracking my brains to remember if I've ever cried for a place. Camp? Maybe. College? Possibly. But I can't remember this very visceral longing that I am feeling in the center of my chest ever being created by a place.

I have been struggling these last three weeks to be joyful. Although I am mostly at peace, there is a dullness that has come over me since I went back to the island to visit when I was in Washington for some training. The first two weeks after I came back were full of heartbreak that Jeff and I were truly done. He is dating someone new now and although we had a fabulous time together that weekend, not being able to be comfortable with him and not being able to revisit the role I played while I lived there as his partner really rammed home emotionally the reality that I missed him. Up until that point, I just thought that when grown-ups make a mutual decision to part ways, that was all there was to it. I congratulated myself on it. A few twinges of loneliness and then on to the next stage were exactly what I expected and exactly what I experienced up to that point. Not very smart, am I? So, I spent two weeks living out every pop break-up song you've ever heard. "Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue" rolled into Melissa Manchester's "Don't Cry Out Loud," resolving into "Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain, telling me just what a fool I've been. Pitter patter, pitter patter, whoa-oh-oh-oh." It was interesting, though, because it was only sadness that I felt. There was no hurt at all mixed up with it. Remembrances of when it had been perfect and sadness that the perfection cannot last, but no hurt or regret. Breaking up with Dennis was so huge and had so much hurt and betrayal mixed up into the sadness. This was totally different. So, I just laughed at my tears and completely gave in to my adolescent urges to journal a lot and to stare off into space imagining alternate realities. Jeff and I have talked about it a fair amount, which is why I'm comfortable sharing this with you.

But after two weeks, specifically at yoga last week, my internal movie switched to showing scenes of the island in general and other people there that I missed. It was so easy to be happy there. I was surrounded with beauty. Even coming home stressed from whatever little drama I had to deal with at whatever little job I had, I drove by ocean and trees and mountains. I knew people and they knew me. After the first few months, I didn't have to worry about when to tell people I was divorced or think about whether or not they would judge me for my lifestyle choices because I'd met just about everyone or I knew that everyone had heard my story from someone else. It wasn't so fucking cold. I had time to create art. I could go work in my friend's farm garden and talk to the sheep with the crazy alien eyes.

I know that I left because in five years, I was going to look back and think that I hadn't accomplished enough with my life. I know it with my head. But there isn't a pop music genre that encompasses the universal human response to leaving a place where one was happy so that one can be fulfilled. That path of catharsis is denied to me so I guess I'll just have to wait until this hard little knot of emptiness in my chest loosens on its own.


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Never sit with your back to the door

Two days ago, my brother told me that although he is a loudtalker and that his loudest is much louder than my loudest, in the morning, it seems that I'm capable of being very loud, seemingly from the moment I get out of bed. I agreed that my first period students have said much the same thing about me over the years. He and Paige speculated that my ability to be fully
alert from the time I first become aware of dawn's rosy fingers arises from the fact that I don't drink any coffee at all and, therefore, am not reliant upon those chemicals to wake me up.

Today, I wish I drank coffee. I had a tough start to my day today. Who knows why. I just did. Getting out of bed wasn't any harder than it normally is but becoming cheerful was. Even after a reasonable shower, eating breakfast, enjoying my orange juice and catching the earlier train, followed by getting the opportunity to read this good book that I'm immersed in for half an hour while I rode the El, I still wasn't engaged enough with the world to smile out of anything more than polite response.

And my coworkers noticed.

There aren't many people there when I get here at 7:45, so I thought that only Fred (who I was going to ride with to go pay for gas for the truck) would have the chance to say something. And he did. And I smiled. And over the course of the conversation in the truck to and from the gas station, I began to open up to being alive and I felt a little better. So I thought that was that.

Apparently, though, my colleagues rely upon my smiling disposition in the morning a little more than I thought because when we returned, James, who doesn't say much at all, told me, "Now, that's the face I wanted to see this morning." What? James saw me this morning before Fred did? Why didn't I see him? That's actually not all that creepy because James is often up in the warehouse racking working with the inventory and I certainly was in no mood to be looking up this morning. James continued, saying, "You looked like you were dragging this morning." It's interesting to know that when I didn't realize I was being observed, my countenance reflected my inner feelings. Too many novels when I was growing up about intelligent, spunky kids having to endure oppressive educational environments have left me with the delusion that I'm actually capable of schooling my features to hide my thoughts like those protagonists could. Although I know that it is a fantasy similar to the fantasy that most of my male friends have that if they sit facing the door in the restaurant, their ability to see their
attacker sooner will actually make a difference in their ability to protect themselves and me, it's good to have it proven every once in awhile that I'm not a plucky heroine, just like they are not actually a spy or a cowboy.

It's also good to know that my co-workers see me as consistently joyful to the point that they notice when I'm not. On days like today, it's helpful to have proof that not every day is like today. In fact, most of them aren't.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

My boss is a Jewish carpenter

My day started badly yesterday. I'm generally a good morning person but I woke up from a really bad point in my sleep cycle and was just grumpy. It didn't help that as I looked at the day ahead of me, I was going to have to confront a co-worker, I was still feeling a little betrayed by what the co-worker had done, I had several meeting all stacked up on each other, which I knew would get crazy and, although I had plans to have lunch with a friend, I was going to have to rush that lunch to get back for the stacked-up meetings.

I was not in a very productive mood when I got to work.

It's tough for me when I'm not in a productive mood at work because, frankly, I work for Jesus. And I don't really have any sort of supervisor to put the fear of Jesus in me. I have to rely fully on my own moral fibre so that I don't waste Jesus's time by surfing the internet when I just don't have the creative energy to pull together some document I'm working on. So, I tend to dock myself any time that I do waste and stay later in the day to make up for it.

I was all set to take 15 minutes out yesterday to call a new friend whose house I was going to later that evening for the first time in order to get directions. As we conversed, I was feeling so de-energized that I said, "It's not going to be a good day today." We talked a little while longer and he said, "Hey, I went to that clinic down on Ogden for my nutrition class. That place has really got it together." The clinic on Ogden is a ministry that my family has been involved with for most of my life. It's a part of a church that is working holistically to reform one of Chicago's Westside neighborhoods, so they provide low-cost, sliding-scale health services. The clinic is also a partner in my program. My friend went on to say that he can't pay much for the classes right now because he's pretty cash-poor, but he'd like to offer the clinic pro-bono or low-cost remodeling work. That's what he does for a living. He's a licensed contractor in the city of Chicago and fully insured with workers and everything. He even works with an architect that does low-cost housing. He was going to call the director of the clinic himself, but since I am already connected with the guy, asked if I would make the offer.

How cool is that? God shows up in some totally unexpected places. I was looking at my day with an expectation of disappointment and stress and in the time I was going to dock myself because I wasn't working for Jesus, he showed up anyway. I dropped my forehead into my hands as the tears that come from being touched emotionally started to well up. I thanked God for reminding me that my day won't go the way I expect it will go. It will play out the way he wants it to play out.

I'm not going to end this story all shinyhappy and tell you how many lives I changed because of this moment but I will tell you that it wasn't as bad as I thought. I was able to get to work and get things done. My appointments did stack up on one another but it was manageable. My co-worker was defensive but agreed to respect my program restrictions in the future. My lunch date cancelled but rescheduled for a time when we wouldn't have to cut it short. Then, I went home and watched a bunch of Gilmore Girls episode before the fun party at my contractor friend's house.

Not a bad way to start and end the day.

Friday, February 10, 2006

His yoke is easy; his burthen is light

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

On Sunday, my pastor used this verse as his support for his answer to the question, "Why should I pray when God is going whatever he's going to do anyway because he's so much smarter than me?" That's not quite how Pastor Daniel phrased the question, but that's the gist of it. Daniel's answer was that we pray in order to be intimate with God. That we will be happier and healthier in a deep relationship with God rather than just a casual acquaintance. He said that time and space matters when it comes to intimacy. Just like in a romantic relationship, you need to go out on dates, away from everyday life, to really feel intimate with someone. He said that this intimacy helps us to align ourselves with God's goals for our lives. Just like we have to really get to know someone well in order to work well with them (anticipating their needs, predicting their reactions), as we spend more quality time with God, we will live our lives more and more in a way that works well with what he's trying to do in the world. Pastor Daniel said that the reward that is promised to us for seeking intimacy is peace. As we align ourselves with God's goals through intimate, simple prayer, our heart and our head begin to want the same things. We get peace as the different parts of ourselves stop walking different directions, which means they are pulling at each other, and begin walking in the same direction. Pastor Daniel said that this peace can been in how people handle crises. He asked us to think of people we all know that seem thrown into disarray at the tiniest possible disturbance and of other people who remain solid through the most horrendous trials. Those who remain solid are more at peace. Their hearts and their heads want the same things. Writers in the Old Testament ask God to create in them an "undivided heart."

The pastor that married me recently asked me if I had any new insights about how I process faith and love and direction now that I seem to walking out the other side of a fairly huge storm. I sent him my rather lengthy response the Friday before Pastor Daniel gave his sermon. I wrote, "If I am centered and fully aware of myself and my surroundings in the present, I am less likely to get tipped over by the unexpected. Rather than walloping me because I wasn't paying attention, the future can only run at me in little taps because I am paying attention to the now and all futures must ultimately become the now."

That rather hifalutin sentence that parallelled but preceded Pastor Daniel's interpretation of what God's reward for our good prayer will be was not about prayer, it was about yoga.

I went to my first yoga practice on Tuesday and it felt so good. Like when I was a kid on the softball field, I forget to think about anything in my life while I'm in a yoga studio. Iyengar yoga puts so much emphasis on aligning the body exactly right and moving slowly but correctly into stretches that there isn't a chance to think about what I have to do next or how badly I messed up earlier in the day. I'm working so hard to remember to keep my knees lifted, my pelvis tucked, my chest open, my eyes straight and any number of other tiny adjustments in addition to remembering to breathe, it just never occurs to me to think about anything else. The word yoga means, "yoke," as in to yoke two animals together so that they will pull the plow or the cart in the same direction. By practicing yoga, we yoke our hearts and minds and bodies together toward one task with the idea that in life, we will be able to perform the same focus for all tasks what we have practiced in the studio. When I practice yoga, my heart and my head are in alignment and there, I find peace.

Yoga is just another form of intimate prayer. It is a way to go into my room and close the door. When I clear my mind, God can fill it. One of the women I work with was in therapy the day after her foot surgery and was told that she had to wiggle her toes for the doctor before she could leave so that he could be sure everything worked still. Her head wanted to do this but her body feared the inevitable post-operative pain and although she stared at her foot and tried to will the one end to wiggle, her toes would not respond. The doctor recognized that she was psyching herself out and told her, "Clear your mind and the toes will wiggle." Lo, as she began to center herself, the fear left her and the toes wiggled without being told to. In fact, she missed the success entirely because she had cleared her mind so completely that she forgot what she was supposed to be watching for.

The reward for pursuing intimacy with God is peace. Peace is when our hearts and our minds want the same thing. Yoga makes the heart, the mind and the body practice wanting the same thing. If you clear your mind, the toes will wiggle. Yoga creates intimacy with God.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Wave of Chaos

If every day at work were like today, I could do this forever and never miss teaching. There was a chaos cloud that I was caught in today where almost nothing went right, random things happened rediculously and all of it was fun.

Out of the four years that I taught, I had maybe two or three classes of kids over whom I had absolutely no control. It was like from day 1, they gave me a handfull of leader points that I had to use sparingly or I wouid run out by the end of the year. Any other time that I wanted them to do something, I had to cajole or entertain or persuade or trick them into doing it. Scaring them had absolutely no effect and neither did threatening them with anything other than the total withdrawal of my humor and affection (which I knew would make my life as miserable as theirs so I rarely used that ultimatum). Most classes will grant a teacher a certain amount of blind authority most of the time simply because it is just easier to follow where a teacher leads. Sheep. Or at least shy goats. Occasionally, these classes will spin out of control when the teacher proves to be totally unworthy of this leadership (you've all heard those horror stories) but usually, classes run along with fairly moderate gives and takes of power, with the teacher having control most of the time.

But occasionally, a class will have just the right mix of kids who were never ever destined to be sheep. A class full of strong-willed, intelligent kids. I can think of nothing more terrifying. Or more fun. These three classes made me cry. But I also laughed so hard I cried on a regular basis. On all three occasions (luckily, never in the same year), I recognized the situation pretty quickly and stopped beating my head against the wall. It wasn't their fault that they were powerfully sharp and charismatic kids bouncing off of each other. I wasn't going to get mad at them that my box of a classroom wasn't big enough to contain their combined energy. So, I broke down and made deals with them. I made them laugh. And I waited. Oh, did I wait. At least once, I waited the entire class period for them to notice that I was at the front of the room, standing at the podium ready to start. The next day, I quizzed them on what they were supposed to have learned. Did they yell and complain? The funny thing is, they didn't. These kids took a frightening amount of responsibility for their own actions. They knew I had no control over them and they didn't fault me for it, much like I didn't fault them for being unable to submit themselves to the confines of a traditional classroom. When they failed a quiz or got sent to the dean, they had their emotions - mad, sad, etc. - but they rarely blamed me. Since I admitted I had no control and instead asked them for the favor of their attention, they often gave it to me. I think they saw my humility as a sign of respect rather than defeat. This actually made these classes a pretty dynamic place to teach. No one worked because the had to. When they worked, it was because they wanted to. I became a better teacher because of these classes that I could not control. I had to make my lessons worth their attention or they wouldn't give it to me. Each thing I taught had to be applicable to their lives or they wouldn't do it. So, I could explain that a particular assignment was to keep them quiet while I conferenced one on one with their peers and they would, for the most part, keep quiet. If it also helped them practice their grammar, well, so be it. That's what I mean about tricking them. I could explain that an assignment was to practice not looking suspicious when they took their ACTs and they would accept that and would practice not looking around the room when they were thinking about answers to quizzes or they would practice not whispering to their neighbor that somthing smelled funny, because I explained that a proctor wouldn't know them like I did and would just assume they were cheating. Or, I could explain the things that they should experience from an assignment and the type of knowledge that they should have when they were done and get the most amazing pieces of creativity and passion. Compare that to having to line out exactly the minimum that needs to be done to get an A, B or C and getting just that: the minimum.

I loved those classes.

Today was like one of those classes. A total of four people showed up today for "appointments" that I knew nothing about. Two were tentative appointments that they never called back to confirm. One couldn't make his appointment at 10:00 yesterday so just showed up at 10:00 today and the fourth had never spoken to me, just told the woman at the front that she had an 11:00 appointment. I can't fault her for not understanding the concept of appointments as an agreement between two people to meet. In her life, when you tell the gatekeeper that you have an appointment for whatever time it is that you have arrived, she tends to get to see that person, even if that person is only emerging from her office to clear up the understanding. Saying that she has an appointment has the desired result. Who am I to insist upon the correctness of abstract definitions? And they work so hard with the poor of this community and feel so blessed by God to have access to the product that I provide that I can't fault them for their lack of business communication skills. Luckily, I have the flexibility in my day to accomodate them. I don't think that's a mistake on the part of my predecessors.

Other things happened during the day. I had to apologize to a woman at HQ for being mean to her a few days ago, but got her support to change what had made me that frustrated in the process. I got pizza at Lou Malnoti's and got another sympathic ear for what I am trying to accomplish. I moved another step forward on two projects that I'm working on. I had a good conversation about yoga and Christianity with my colleagues. My boss, totally unprovoked, acknowledged that I was experiencing a major life-altering segment of my journey by working at this job and absolutely affirmed me. And then the teachers showed up.

Almost every day, at the end of my shift, I spend an hour with teachers who have come to the warehouse to "shop" for free office supplies. They come as a group, all from the same school at the same time. Most have been there before and it runs pretty smoothly by itself with me there to supervise for the little snags and to get them both started and checked out. But today, oh today. Wait, let me start a new paragraph so that this is a complete narrative in itself.

At 2:00, I was paged to the customer service desk to explain to a teacher that her school's appointment was not until 3:45. I was in the middle of something, so I left her there at the desk calling her principal and went back to my little office. At 2:30, I was in the office having the aforementioned conversation about yoga and Christianity when I heard myself being paged to the Customer Service desk in the warehouse again. Since this would have been the fifth unexpected "appointment" of the day, I went ahead and finished the conversation before heading out to see what was going on. As I walked toward the Customer Service desk, there was a gaggle of people trapped by the railings that create a reception area to the warehouse so that people can't steal stuff by slipping out while the customer Service ladies are busy. It was the most raggedy, varied group of people I've seen in a long time. And all of them were sort-of meandering in place, maybe even bumping up against the railing every once in awhile like fish bump their noses on the sides of the tank. Rather than trying to draw out their leader, which I must have instinctually known was futile task, I called to Lisa, "Are these my 3:45 teachers, Lisa?" This led to a slight increase in their physical and verbal agitation much like when one moves the lid on the fish tank, signalling that one is about to start dumping in dehydrated flakes of something yummy. They were not at all frightening in their indignation. They all called out in degrees of muted despair that they had a 2:45 appointment. I stopped. Looked at them. Then asked if teachers were also coming at 3:45. "Oh no!" they assured me. So, I made a big, magnanimous gesture with my arm and said, "Come along then," like an American Mary Poppins with pigtails and led the way back to the teacher section of the warehouse. Their relief and beginning hesitant tendrils of delight were reminiscent of children whose mother stopped yelling scary things like, "Why did I ever let your father convince me. . ." and guiltily offered them a trip to Oberweis for ice cream.

I walk faster than most customers around the warehouse because I know where I'm going. So, I reached my introduction spot and asked them to gather around me for instructions. It was at this point that I noticed Mr. O'Leary (not his real name, but close enough for you to get the idea). Mr O'Leary was a large African-American man, wearing nice leather shoes, plum-colored pants and a red and black checked quilted flannel for a coat. All of his hair was tucked up in a black beret that could not have looked less like a Black Panther beret by the way it was draped on his head. Mr. O'Leary had giant, ping-pong eyeballs that were locked onto me as I spoke. He looked a little like Kermit the Frog. In fact, the entire group looked like a gaggle of about 8 Muppets, all different and with their heads at different levels like some were standing on boxes, with an underlying thread of rediculousness that identified them as belonging together. Part of this effect came from the fact that Mr. O'Leary had immediately sat down on the round, wheeled stool, which had been located on the other side of the teacher section and immediately began scooting toward where the rest of the teachers were standing in short, jerking motions. As I watched his slow and very slapstick progression toward the group, I realized that he was eating a piece of fried chicken. Where did he get a piece of fried chicken?! So, he stared at me raptly with his bug-eyes, eating his chicken while I gave very clear instructions with lots of visual examples for how they should go about procuring their product. As I was finishing and about to transition to showing them where to sign in, his head snapped up and he said, "Wait, what are we supposed to do?" Classic. Then, everyone was clamoring for the clipboards that they would need to shop and I had to slow it down and tell them that "the clipboard is a reward for signing in over there. No, over there." It was very much reminiscent of my special classrooms. These were teachers at an alternative school for kids who can't make it in regular school. Of course they resemble my smart, can't-stay-in-the-box-if-we're-all-together kids. The rest of the hour was spent further demonstrating their high-maintenance status but also demonstrating their great good-will and willingness to laugh at themselves.

I need to emphasize to you what a great diversity of weirdness there was to this group. Aside from Mr. O'Leary, there was the 23-year-old sandy blonde white kid, with his sirt unbuttoned to his sternum showing lots of chest hair. Adding to his sun-kissed skater good looks was his nascent beard or overgrown 5 o'clock shadow. After him came the small, tidy African American woman in her 50s who, although neat in her person, showed absolutely no tendencies toward style whatsoever. She wore flat dress shoes with socks and jeans and had large red glasses and a black Old Navy ballcap. Contrasted with her was the African American woman of about the same age who was making her shiny red workout pants and white tennies look good. The way the totally normal looking white guy in his 50s that could have fit in as a junior high science teacher anywhere in the suburbs, And the absent-minded art professor white guy with the hair that he obviously ran his hands through compulsively, creating little tips that stood out straight. He had a thick beard and thick glasses, with eyes that didn't focus in the same direction. His red wool letterman style coatcoat was too nice for him to have bought it for himself and, sure enough, there was a wedding ring. The man they addressed as Rev. Michaels was a classic Billy Dee Williams-stylish church man by the look of him, with pressed jeans and long black leather coat but who couldn't seem to focus on his surroundings and was helped variously by all the other teachers there even though he only appeared to be in his 40s. As he walked around, he made gutteral noises of vague agreement. "Uh-huh, all right, yeah, uh- huh, look at that, all right." There was also a stylish white lady in her late 60s wearing high-class all black and a hot pink fedora-style hat over her silver hair. The principal, a large African American woman eventually showed up wearing a blue sweatsuit with green piping, matching blue Nikes and a fur coat. Every type of crazy urban teacher, except the very stylishly-dressed, recently-engaged young woman, was there. I loved every minute of it.

I'd do days like this forever. They are so full of fun and good purpose. There are enough minor frustrating moments and little successes to keep me from taking any of it for granted. And I have no control over it. I just have the to ride the wave of chaos and persuade and cajole and bribe the people the people I'm working with to get them to go in the same direction with me. Perfect.

Monday, February 06, 2006


The perky 24-year-old woman (a different one) with flawless complexion and artful eye makeup stood in front of our group of new employees two weeks ago dressed in a business suit that would make every career woman turned suburban mom proud, with it's tasteful tweed comnibed with subtle grosgrain ribbon accents. She asked us, "What do you think when you hear the words, Christian Comitments?" The capital letters were audible.

After the obligatory embarassed pause (it was the first presentation of the morning and of course we weren't expected to actually have to participate this early), people began responding and it became clear to me that the words, Christian Commitments did mean something to most of the people there. I, on the other hand, knew that commitments were things one has promised to do and that the word Christian is a proper discriptor that can fundtion either as an adjective or adverb (depending on the word it is modifying) that idicates that something is associated in some way with a psuedo-historical man named Jesus, who was called the Christ. But the simple sum of these words was obviously less that the definition from which these people were working.

So, since I am occasionally possessed by the Imp of the Perverse, I raised my hand. (Let's pause a moment while we wait for my mother to sigh inwardly as she fears for my job.) "Can we back up a little bit? It sounds to me like the phrase already has an understood definition and I don't really know Churchspeak. Can you translate first before we interpret?" the girl was only slightly thrown since her Powerpoint presentation, when it finally booted up, was going to address just this question. So I apologized for presenting the trasition question too early, everyone laughed and I hoped the Imp of the Perverse had been distracted some little bit of wildlife struggling to accomplish a task without opposable thumbs in the tree outside the window.

Now, it's possible that I misrepresented myself a little when I said that Chruchspeak was unknown to me. I can fellowship with the best of them. I have agreed with people that I am saved. Heck, I've even seen the light. But I don't like it when I talk like that. It is jargon and the nature of jargon is exclusionary. The nature of the gospel, however, (gospel means "good news") is the absolute opposite of exclusionary. Jesus loves everyone. He is the epitome of inclusionary. The holy Spirit works in everyone's life. There is nothing anyone can do to make God love us more or love us less, not even if we call him by another name or deny his existence altogether. So, I believe that the language of Christians, if they truly believe that all people are equal in the eyes of God, should be the language of the people. There should be no phrases that have special meansing only to Christians or to the anthropologists that study Christians. Besides, jargon is a characteristic of cliques and I don't want to be painted with the same brush as someone who became a Christian because she wanted the popular kids to like her.

Now, the good thing that came from my visit from the Imp of the Perverse is the conversation that I had at the break after the presentation. In the women’s restroom, another new employee approached me and thanked me for asking that particular question. At least one or two other women at the sinks spoke up also and we had a short conversation of agreement along the same lines as my previous paragraph. This is important because it is yet another experience in a recent trend of interacting with Christians that seem to resemble me in their lifestyles and doctrines, which is pretty much the first time this has happened in my life. Since there have been two or three of these interactions in the past few weeks, I am finding some of the walls that I’ve built up between myself and other Christians have begun to crumble a little. I hope the Crusaders don’t come charging over the fallen bricks once I let some of the guards go home for the harvest.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Old lady

I was at a party last night and the 26-year-old woman that I was talking to assured me, in exclamtory tones, that I had, "aged well." The 24-year-old woman agreed and asked me how I did it.

I'm 28 year old.