on my mind

I came across (and by came across, I mean was handed by someone who from this point on will be referred to as my spiritual adviser) the DVDs of Bill Moyer’s interview with Joseph Campbell: “The Power of Myth.”

Campbell says something to the effect that our brain is a secondary organ. The soul and heart are first. And when we give the brain priority, we create a schizophrenia in ourselves.

I don’t have my reflection on this yet, but just wanted to say that it’s been on my mind for the past 24 hours.

The Alchemist

I read it today after it was suggested to me last week. And after I read “Warrior of the Light: A Manual” last night. I am desperately seeking answers. And for one of the first times in my life, I am listening. I see that there are messengers all around me.

I have had a lifelong obsession with the desert. The only person I know who has ever truly understood it is the person who put the obsession there: my father. My mother even laughs and says “you and your father.” Every other person I know, who truly knows me, understands one aspect about the desert that I do. But there’s never been a single person who gets why the very concept of a desert or the presence of the desert on the Earth is so meaningful to me.

Sometimes, I don’t even know that I fully understand it.

Then, every now and again, I read something that speaks so eloquently about the power of the desert. The life in it. The energy. The answers that it holds.

When I first started teaching, the last three months of that first school year were plagued by these dreams. It was the same dream every single night. Just an open desert. There was something there that I did not understand or could not see. So, night after night, it haunted me. I’d wake up in a cold sweat, not knowing exactly what I was supposed to be gathering from these sleepless nights.

So, I took them to a spiritual advisor. And through eight days of meditation and zero talking, except with him, I was able to get some answers. And I returned to Los Angeles by way of the ocean, thinking that I had washed away the desert.

Until it happened again. Another crossroads. And I remember this clearly. I went to my parents’ house, and I said that I was going to pack some things up the next day and go find my soul in the desert.

Continue reading

the question

As often as possible, I have spent my Friday nights (and the wee hours of Saturday morning) for the past few months with the same group of friends. I have come to treasure this time, genuinely feeling when I miss it that the beginning of my next week lacks something vital. It’s an odd assortment of people, or primarily one friend, who makes this worthwhile, but the total experience has become almost spiritual.

Two Fridays ago, two things happened. I was sitting there, shaking my head, saying I just don’t know anymore. I need to get my head together. And my friend pulled from his back pocket a small book called “The Art of Peace.”

“I think you need this more than I do.”

If that wasn’t enough, he always asks me one question. That Friday it was “What’s the most important thing to you?” It took me a few days to get back to him on that.

That along with a very revealing conversation with another person who has become an amazing friend in the past few months, really made me see a lot about myself. It was so interesting in conjunction with “The Art of Peace” and “The Interior Castle” that I thought for a brief moment that aforementioned friend just might be an angel.

Way too many messages. I’d lie if I said I’m not struggling right now. On many, many levels.

But I think I learned last night where this struggle started. What it means. How it’s occurred over the past four years.

And in all honesty…how to fix it. And I think I reclaimed a tiny bit of my soul in just deciding that it is, indeed, fixable.

your soul is showing

Last Sunday, I had dinner at my parents house. I left later than I usually do on Sunday nights, coming up with three different plots to not have to go to work the next day.

When I finally got home, I realized that my line of thinking was going to make my week entirely miserable. Since I knew going in that there was going to be a minimal amount of sleep involved in my week, I figured that I would be doubly miserable about Wednesday when the exhaustion hit me.

So, I said to myself that it is all positive. Every single bit of it. Continue reading

on writing

By force or just by discussion, I have given this a lot of though this week.

The “this” is writing. Specifically, I have been thinking about the whys of writing. Why is that I feel compelled to sit here and write out my thoughts? Why is it that I carry around a journal? Why is it that I teach my classes they way I do? Why do I feel so tortured by the prescribed reading material?

In three different conversations, people described their disdain toward writing. And I wondered about that. Partly because I had just sat down two weeks ago and written five admissions essays. It wasn’t fun. Not at all, but it also wasn’t torture. I think about how much my students despise writing. I think about how some of my coworkers–in the English department–proudly profess that they are not writers.

I suppose the technical part of it is very daunting. There are millions of rules for millions of situations. I’m sure I make tons of mistakes in my writing. But I also think I had wonderful training in writing. Grammar doesn’t stress me out. It just is. I suppose if you take that part out of the equation, it’s downright painful. I can’t imagine what it feels like to be my student and receive a paper back riddled with pen marks, documenting each and every grammatical mistake.

When I was hired to teach writing, I said simply that I take it seriously. When I was asked why, I said, “Writing saved my life.”

A couple of days ago, I said that I love to write because it’s the only way I can “transfer dreams or imaginings into a perceived reality.” It’s so simple for me. Black words on white paper. You can read into it what you will. You can imagine from it what you will. I don’t have to color it. I don’t have to illustrate it. There needs to be no visual interpretation of my images at all.

That is an incredibly powerful thing.

And today, when I became engaged in a curriculum discussion, I said that I could very well be wrong. I’m not a literature person. By that, I mean, I don’t have sick desire to embrace every piece of classic literature.

But, I went on to say, the big difference is that while other teachers see the writing as the assessment, I see it as the IT. That’s what it’s all about.

In my frustration, a couple of weeks ago, I stripped the entire front of the classroom of all the cute motivational posters about being nice to each other and being a good person. I printed on plain paper the words FIRST FIND YOUR SOUL. THEN FIND YOUR VOICE.

I’ve written about my decision to teach “Zoot Suit” over “The Great Gatsby.” I did that for two reasons. One, it is genuinely more interesting to my students and they’ve devoured it in half the time they would have read Gatsby in. But, the more important reason for me is that it symbolizes so well the power of the written word. It tells so well the idea that words create injustice just as easily as they create justice. And it tells of the importance of telling stories. Telling stories to bring light to injustices. I think when young people learn about the world–as they are every day with me–it seems overwhelming. There are no answers. There are no easy solutions. But there are thoughts and arguments. There is enlightenment. It all comes through writing.

Writing is a voice that has allowed me to be heard my entire life.

I say to my friend all the time: that is going to be my gift to the Junior class of this school. I want them to understand their words are the truest expression of who they are intellectually, emotionally, academically, and spiritually.

And slowly….slowly….they have picked up on the format. Even more importantly, I smile every time I read a student’s analysis of a character’s soul.

When I sat down this evening to grade essays, I thought to myself, “Who thought it would be a good idea to teach English?”

It’s even more painful than the writing process itself. It’s a slow bleed to death. It’s watching the words I love so very much be mangled each and every day. But there are small glimmers of hope. I see where my students have grown. I see their weaknesses. And even their  in 80 millionth character analyses, I can see their very souls. I see what they value. I see their experiences. I see their faith. I see their hopes.

But most of all I see in them what I share in my writing–their soul.