T.S. Eliot’s take on change and reflection, appropriate for the new year

From “Little Gidding” by T.S. Eliot

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language
And next year’s words await another voice.
But as the passage now presents no hinderance
To the spirit unappeased and peregrine
Between two worlds become much like each other,
So I find words I never thought to speak…

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem is an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.

New Year, New Kid, New…

When we first told Maya we were pregnant, we asked her what we should name the baby (we are not going to find out the gender.) Her immediate response was “Bambino Dingo” – to her, these were nonsensical sounds, but they were two clear-as-a-bell words, and they almost made sense! It stuck.

Bambino Dingo - due May 8, 2015
Bambino Dingo – due May 8, 2015


Maybe I should have had kids sooner.

Of course, I don’t really mean that, because I want the exact kids that came together in the exact moment to make exactly Maya and Bambino Dingo (I may be making a big assumption here, as I have not yet met Bambino Dingo yet, but I’m willing to bet that he/she is exactly who I want.)

But I feel like I didn’t even begin figuring out my life until I had kids. I know it’s been said before, but I DID NOT know how to appreciate my open schedule and time before. Having a kid forced me to prioritize and be more productive, and my life has improved because of that. I am more purposeful. However, I wish I had figured that out sooner. Thus, I should have had kids sooner.

I did not put off having kids until my 30’s so that I could “accomplish more” before I did so. I did not travel more or produce more, or really focus in on anything. I wish I had known better (though I’m sure someone told me.) I was busy just being and bouncing around and hanging out. And now I’m in spitting distance of 40. I thought I’d have more done? Built? Collected? Grown? Accomplished? Seen? But 40 is the new 30, right?

I spent a lot of time at the Reservoir Bar
I spent a lot of time at the Reservoir Bar











I was definitely building the blocks of me in my 20’s, but I was not yet purposeful. I was actually pretty passive. It’s a big part of my personality – maybe a little too go with the flow.  But I am actively trying to change that now. I want more, and it looks like I’m going to be the one to have to make that happen. Wish I’d known that before my only free time was nap-time. On the weekends. Which is when I do the dishes.

I should have been writing...
I should have been writing…

More what? Of course it would be sweet to win the lottery, etc. (Oh, the travel!) But what I’m really thinking is that I want to do more, make more, plan more, to stop sitting around. My mind turns almost constantly with ideas and scenarios.

I hope to take the next year off with Maya and Bambino Dingo, and I am so excited, but I am afraid of me. I am afraid that without a boss and deadlines and 160 medium-sized people needing me to be accountable, I won’t be. I am much more disciplined for others than I am for myself.

So that is my challenge in 2015. Be less like me.

Just kidding.

Strive to be a more present and productive me. Plan more, do more, create more. Plus meet my new kid. That will be a cool new part of 2015 also.


Writing the Curriculum, ahem, Writing. Writing the Writing.

And here we are. The beginning of another school year. I get so nervous the night before, I can hardly sleep. Eight years into teaching and still…

But this year there is something new: I am “teaching” a Creative Writing class. I put ‘teaching’ in quotes just there because it is not the same as other classes. I am dancing (dueling?) back and forth between freedom and structure, and I am in the middle: an emotional wreck.

You wouldn’t know it in class – I seem (I think) to have it all planned out, to have a vision, but really I am sticking a toe in, withdrawing; tasting, testing, spitting it out. Questioning myself a lot.

Prompts, genres, lessons, free writing, feedback. It seems against creativity to put a framework to it, a schedule to it, but I also know that’s a lie. Discipline, learning, trying things outside of our natural tendencies – these are all good for creativity. So is a bottle of wine and some jazz on low in the evening light – but I won’t bring that into class. Ha.

I’ve brought flowers in and am putting pictures on the wall:

Ryan Sheffield Art

Maybe some beanbags? A tea station has been requested…

But how do we warm this cold, cinder-block-public-school-room with words? I’ll keep looking…


Lessons and Themes

Lesson Six: Find yourself through the stories

I think in themes.  It’s a hazard (benefit?) of my literary analysis training and day to day routine with students.  I cannot hear, read, watch or see anything without finding the theme of the incident, story, piece, etc.

When we are in elementary school, we are taught that the theme is the moral of the story.  This is not incorrect, and when students are stuck, I direct them to start again at this basic step.  But now, in my advanced literature classes (sounds fancy, right? Well, remember, it’s still only high school!), we talk about theme in terms of the universal human truth. The thing about the story that relates to being human.  The underlying current of understanding and connection. It leads to discussions about archetype and culture and basic humanity.  Theme is the language of my every day work life.

Teacher Rae
Teacher Rae

And I tend to apply it to the “real” world as well.  I have a narrative mind that turns each and every situation into a fictional story – which means that it must have been built with all of the nuts, bolts, stylistic choices and literary tools and devices authors use. I do not give enough credit to random coincidence or purposeless happenings.  Some might call it a faith in a higher power – some puppet master/story writer of our fates – that everything happens for a reason, but it really could just be my English teacher default 11th-grade-lit-analysis brain setting.

Whatever it is, I like it.  I feel better thinking that there is a lesson or purpose behind everything and that my life has some significant meaning.  (Students of mine will be very familiar with this vernacular of mine: significant moments, meaning, universal human truth…)

I recently read that a “successful blog” should have a theme.  And I have struggled with this – I do not want to have a separate blogs each  for my education musings,  my mommy blogging, and yet another for  my writing practice. Maybe those are genres, categories, not themes, but still – what is my theme here?

I started off my posts with “Lessons” and I kind of trailed off from that because it seemed a little kitschy, but it is the truth of my perspective and how my brain works.  I am writing this blog to make my own life lessons apparent to myself.

think haiku

To teach myself how to look, notice, appreciate, be grateful.

write haiku

To teach myself to write regularly.

So whether my readership is just me or if there are countless of you out there, that is my purpose here.  You may notice motifs arise and threads of themes begin to weave from post to post, whether they are tagged parenting or teaching, and my aim is to make that more purposeful.

Truth be told, this is a challenging time for me.  I am grabbing my story by the reigns and making purposeful notes to change it.  Don’t get me wrong: I have everything I need to be happy – the most wonderful family,  a good job, great friends, a sturdy home – and I am happy, but I am also unsettled and uncomfortable. I am at a crossroads (is it my age? The mid-30s?) and I am going to write until this path is clear.

Who is Rae?
Who is Rae?

Thank you for all of your support and guidance, friends, readers, universe, story writer in the sky. I am looking closely at the beautiful things in my life and I am listening and I am writing.

So, theme?  Universal human truth?

How about self-discovery?



One must know oneself to be happy. This is my bildungsroman* (just started a little later in life than Scout Finch or Holden Caulfield).

*German, a novel about the main character’s moral, psychological, or spiritual growth.

The Body Changes

My dog, my sister, my mom, and me, 2007.
My dog, my sister, my mom, and me, 2007.

I was in the best shape of my life when I met my husband 7 years ago.  (So was he.)

Sean's birthday at the Durham Bulls baseball park.
Sean’s birthday at the Durham Bulls baseball park.

I was working like 60 hours a week, left at 6, stopped by the gym on the way home, also stopped by this Vietnamese place that sold me already-prepped-and-cooked tofu, put that on a salad, had one glass of wine while watching tv, and went to bed.  And started it all over again at 5:30am the next morning.

We had a long distance relationship for the first year and a half we were together: he was in NC while I was in Arlington, VA. It was a solitary life privilege.  My time was completely mine, and I am still proud of myself for using it like I did.

I definitely used pregnancy as an excuse to eat as much ice cream as I possibly could.  One of the nurses at the Birth Center (Women’s Birth and Wellness – they were awesome!) told me that if I kept it up, I’d have a big-headed-baby.  I was irked by this at the time, but she was right: Bell came into this world solid and tough at 9 lbs, 3 oz.

Pregnant belly = ice cream table
Pregnant belly = ice cream table

And it was cool when breastfeeding burned a million-billion calories per day, but then I kept up this “splurging” on bread and caramel habit well after the kid had moved on to PB&Js and apple slices. More than that though, I stopped my habit of making exercise a regular part of my day.

I am BRILLIANT at justifications.  And at credible, logical excuses. And at procrastination.

But my girl will be two next month and our routine is a pretty rockin’ dance these days – we know the steps by heart.  It’s time to admit that I don’t feel as good as I could.  As I should.

There are some hard things going on right now: stressful work; messy, un-renovated house; nasty, rude neighbors; figuring out what to eat for dinner (okay, now I’m being melodramatic, but when it’s 5pm and we’re trying to figure out what to eat, it feels pretty hard) and it is my full-body inclination to go straight for the wine glass and put my feet up – celebrate the relaxation of the end of the day.  I deserve to stop for a minute, right?

But tonight, I worked out.  I do this sporadically, but the struggle is consistency.  So I am putting it in print and in public: I feel better about myself after I work out.  I feel motivated.  About EVERYTHING.  I am happy.  I am excited.  I am optimistic. I am confident. I am in love.  I am thrilled.  I am beautiful. I am productive. I am proud.

I mean, wine does no wrong in my eyes, but it does not give me a high like that. (Why can’t I remember that the next day when it’s time to work out again?)

And you know the last time I wrote?  It was the last time I worked out (it’s been a while).  I can give a little credit to all the snow days – they equal more free time and less time outdoors. But really, after a workout, I take a shower, and my wheels turn and my fingers itch – I am ready to do all those things that make me a better me.

So, from here on, this physical story is changing.  And I hope it’s the domino that pushes some others as well.

Mother? Teacher? Writer?

Lesson one: The power of punctuation

I was going to list my “titles” in my header with the question marks above to indicate the confusion of which really identified me, but then I decided that step one was owning it: I am all three. While the first two take turns taking the lead in my life, and I may not exactly know how to look the part of  juggler of  all three, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t all there.  They are. Period.

Motherhood has transformed me (I know, all the girls say that!), but it’s so true.  All people have arrived on this planet in pretty much the same way, but dang! what a mind-blowing, magical, out-of-this world experience! Sure it’s hard work, but I have yet to complain that it’s hard.  It’s just so damn rewarding.  Love like no other.  Sure, sometimes I’m tired and fried and am counting the minutes until she goes to bed, bribing my husband to do bath time and bed time just so I can check out early, but I still look at her and think the whole purpose of the history of the world was to bring Bell into existence.

I work full time as an English teacher for 10th and 11th graders. This means that I get to work at 8am, teach 5 classes in 7 hours, and do my very best to leave as close to 430pm  as possible to relieve my mother-in-law of toddler duty (Bell is 21 months).  Before Bell was born, I stayed at work every single night until 7 or 8pm – I was never very good at working at home.  When I was pregnant, Sean implored me to learn how to work only while I was at work and to come home by 5 – he pointed out that I wouldn’t have a choice once the baby had arrived.  He was right.  What I learned then, is how to get the kid between 4 and 5pm, come home make dinner, do bath/bedtime and then work at home after she’s asleep.  And yes, I still work on the weekends.  Bottom line: teachers work as much in 9 months as most people do in 12, so no, summer off does not mean teachers work less.  (Sorry that sounded so bitter – teachers have fielded a lot of insults lately about not deserving our pay.)

I love teaching for all of the rewarding elements: the relationships with the students, the satisfaction of seeing young people grow and learn, the thrill of feeling successful and competent, my unparalleled camaraderie with my colleagues/friends, and yes, holidays and summers off.  But damn, it’s a hard job – it’s an emotional roller coaster, never-ending, hard on my family and frustrating beyond all belief. And no, it’s not the students that make it hard or make me want to quit.  Ever.

I know that to be a writer, one must write, but I’m sorry: I almost never write (fiction – I write professionally and journal almost every day), but I still know it’s in my bones. I am my best self when I do.

Here’s to being a mother.  Here’s to being a teacher.  And here’s to being a writer.  It feels scary to say those so definitively, to say each loudly and proudly, but that’s my aim – that’s the direction in which I’m moving.  Let’s go.