dream, dream, dream

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In 2009, I decided that I wanted to become a school librarian. Media specialist. Teacher-librarian. Whatever you want to call it.

After 19 years of teaching English, I was tired of being the person others feel they must watch their grammar around. I was tired of the red pen jokes. I was (really, really) tired of reading essays no one wanted to write and no one wanted to read.

Instead, I decided I would leave the classroom to become what I’d long wanted to be:  A school librarian. I wanted to be the person who worked with teachers and kids as a conduit to information literacy. I wanted to be the pusher who got teens hooked on my favorite drug: books.

Please note the date:  2009. Most of the rest of the country was already well aware of (and experiencing) the biggest economic crisis since the Depression, but it takes awhile for economic shifts to really hit schools. That spring, we were bracing for budget cuts. But honestly? Other than a lovely, brief little spell in the 90s, my whole career has been bracing for budget cuts. It felt like business as usual.

So, even though many of the districts in my area had already gotten rid of their librarians, I enrolled myself in a library-media certification program. “They can’t fire all the librarians,” I said. “They’ll have to have some, and why not me?”

Oh, but I didn’t stop there. Oh, no. I then left my very secure teaching job, where I was buried so far down the seniority ladder that I would never be laid off. I took an instructional coaching position in another district, never imagining that I would become the last one hired there for years. “I’ll gain skills to become the kind of librarian I want to be,” I said. “It’s worth the risk.” This was a year after my divorce, when I was struggling to make ends meet as a single mom.

Two years later, the spring budget season felt like a bloodbath. In two years our high school staff went from 90+ teachers to 60+. “Do you know there’s no one above you on the list?” my principal said. “Like, No. One. You can’t bump anyone.” (Bumping is when a person with more seniority and the right certification can bump another teacher out of their job.)

I knew.

My position was reduced, but I was grateful to have one at all. Two years after that, I traded in some of my coaching for a half-time library gig, over-seeing all 10 of our district’s school libraries. I am the only certified teacher-librarian we have.

It was not the job I’d dreamed of. Almost no student contact time, and almost no time to work with teachers. Occasionally I do anyway, but it’s really not in my job description. And I haven’t had full-time employment for five years.

Now, however, three years later, some districts are bringing back positions that look a lot like the job I dreamed of. And I saw one and I applied for it. And I got it.

It was truly a dream position. A small (<800 students) magnet school. Grades 6-12. Diverse. High achievement, even with students who typically don’t achieve. A global lens that celebrates multiple cultures and perspectives. A chance to integrate the favorite parts of both my library and coaching roles into one, full-time position. When I walked through its doors, I could feel what a good fit it would be for me.

But. (You knew there was a “but” coming, didn’t you?)

It was not where I’d like to live. The commute from where we live now would be horrible–more than an hour of mostly stop-and-go traffic, which is something I do not tolerate well. The community the school is in is just fine, but it’s not the kind of place I want to live and I could not afford the kind of home I’d like to live in. And I’d be living there mostly by myself, as Cane’s job is close to where we now live.

As Cane and I have gradually come to understand and accept that we likely aren’t going to be able to live together full-time again for a long time, we’ve been wrestling with what it means to be family, and what constitutes home. This job offer raised the questions to a fever-pitch.

In the end, I turned down my dream job.

It was hard!

Really, really hard. But here’s the thing:

It just wasn’t the right one, dreamy as it was. As I realized a few years back in the area of clothing, almost-right is still not-right. As I wrestled with this decision I could look back on my life and see all the compromises I’ve made on important things, taking the almost-right thing that was available because I feared that it was the best I could get.

No more.

I’m holding out for right. I want the right work AND I want good work/life balance. That means living close to work (and not spending hours a week in the car). I want an affordable home that I both love and can care for with the resources I have, in a community that is a good fit. I want a life close to the people I love.

The job offer was a huge gift, in that it helped us clarify some important questions. It’s helped us move out of the limbo we’ve been in since November, when Cane found an apartment we thought would be temporary, to live in part-time until the situation with his daughter stabilized. The challenges we’re living with are not temporary, and this opportunity helped both of us see and know what we each need to be OK going forward.

So, we are meeting with our realtor this morning, to talk about selling the house. We’ve been visiting open houses in other places we might want to live. I’ve applied for some other jobs. I’m holding out for the right thing, maybe for the first time. Despite the change and upheaval and all the things that have happened that I never wanted, things are good in a way they haven’t been for a long time.

We’re going to find a place where our eggs won’t roll away. That’s the dream, anyway.

Teaser

Just a quick little glimpse of what’s been going on in the studio.

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Progress is slow, but there has been some.

Of seeds and waiting and blossoming

Please let me introduce you to Miss Rumphius:

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It is because of Miss Rumphius, aka The Lupine Lady, that I’ve always wanted to grow lupines.

She is first a librarian and then a world traveler, but after an injury she realizes it is time to find her “home by the sea” and fulfill the final prong of her 3-part life mission statement, which is to make the world a more beautiful place. She comes to do so by planting lupines.

I have always wanted to be like Miss Rumphius (well, at least since I first met her–which was probably 25 years ago), and it is because of her that I’ve long loved lupines.

Sadly, I’ve never had much luck with growing them. I’ve planted lupines numerous times, but they’ve always been a bit puny and nothing like the ones growing on the cover of  Miss Rumphius’s book.

Until this year:

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I have only this one plant, but isn’t it glorious?

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It’s struggled to grow for at least two years. Its leaves would come up, but it never flowered. I’d pretty much given up on it, thinking that, perhaps, I was just not meant to be a grower of lupines.

It’s funny how things sometimes grow and blossom when we leave them be.

Miss Rumphius plants a few seeds in stony ground, and they bloom several seasons later, after winter and then a spring of illness. Looking out her window at them from the confines of her bed, she wishes she could plant more, but her health prevents it. When she is finally able to get out again after another winter and spring, she sees that the flowers have spread, their seeds carried by the birds and wind.

It happens without her needing to do anything other than plant those few first seeds. And wait, and let things take their natural course.

I suppose it might have been well enough to leave it there, but she doesn’t. She orders bushels of seed that she begins to carry in her pockets, tossing them everywhere she goes. Some people call her crazy, but she just walks and flings seeds, trusting in the process.

Which, of course, is enough. Eventually, her flowers bloom everywhere.

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Like Miss Rumphius, I am ending one stage of life and beginning another, wondering what I might do to make the world a more beautiful place.

I suspect the seeds of an answer to my question have already been sewn, and that it will unfurl when I turn my attention to other things and stop waiting for its bloom.

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A friend told me this week that a watched peony never blossoms.

What about you, friends? Anything you’re waiting for?

Listen to Your Friends

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My friends told me that it was an amazing experience. They said it was life-changing. They said it was powerful.

And yet, none of that really captures it, any more than the prenatal class I took for those expecting multiples conveyed what it would really be like to care for two babies. I want to write words that will somehow help anyone reading to know how amazing, life-changing, powerful, and down-right magical it is to appear in a Listen to Your Mother show, but I’m pretty sure it’s not possible.

I think you had to be there.

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I’m going to try anyway.

All of those things my friends told me–they are true. What it really all comes down to, I think, is the power of shared story. Sharing:  That’s where the magic is.

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For much of my adult life, I questioned and struggled with the purpose of writing. It was so hard. It took me away from other things. And for what? What would be gained? Who would really care? What purpose would it serve, really? Was it worth what I would sacrifice, taking the precious minutes of my life to write my stories?

Several years ago, I decided that the answers to those questions were pretty much nothing, no one, none, and no.

I think, perhaps, it’s because the crucial piece that was missing from my practice as a “serious” writer was the sharing. I mean, yes, publishing is sharing, but it’s such a one-way thing. I think I’ve kept at blogging because it’s more about reciprocal sharing. It’s about community, and that’s what makes writing matter.

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There are women in this group whose life experience is different from mine in important ways, but in our first rehearsal I found connection to every single person’s story. Some walloped me close to home–Sue’s story about a difficult pregnancy, Becky’s story about step-mothering, Susan’s story about how it is to be a family with a visibly disabled child, Amy’s story about her family of strong women who rarely speak openly about the tragedies in their lives.

But truly, there was something in everyone’s story that spoke to me: from Kate’s mother who loved the Handi-wipes I remember from my grandmother’s house to Mandy whose voice is so much like her mother’s that no one could tell them apart on the phone. (My dad never knew if it was my mother or me when one of us called home.) When Kylene told of her valiant struggle to carry her large baby on her body, I remembered my own challenges to give my babies what I thought they needed. Carisa talked about not shielding her children from life’s truths, something I’ve been doing with mine for years, and Sandra told stories about her mother who, like my grandmother, was the center of her family’s universe. The absurdity in Leslie’s story about burying a pet hamster reminded me of so many moments I found myself doing things I never imagined I might do as a mother.

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Through our stories–and making ourselves vulnerable by telling them honestly–we became a community. I have probably spent fewer than 15 hours with these women, but I tell you this:  I feel I know them better than others I’ve known for 15 years. And I would drop everything for any of them if they needed me to, because I’ve looked into the most tender places in their hearts, as they have looked into mine. (I also feel this way about so many of you I’ve only “met” in our online spaces.)

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Imagine how our world might be if we could all do this. What if we could lower our defenses and share our most important experiences? What if we could learn to really listen to each other? How much kinder and stronger and more able to love might we all be?

Putting our writing out into the world is hard because so often we are opening up the softest parts of ourselves (if we are doing it right) to others who may not accept our gift with respect or care. We put ourselves at risk when do that, just as much as if we were offering our bodies to a lover who can’t love us back.

But damn, the world needs it.

It needs brave souls who will say:  “This is my story. This is my truth.” We need it so that we can see ourselves in each other. We need it to know we aren’t alone. We need it so we can be strong in the face of all that life throws at us. We need it so that we can turn to each other in the face of our fears, rather than on each other.

We need it.

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My friends told me that being in Listen to Your Mother is life-changing. I believed it was true for them, but I wondered how it could be that way for me. How could getting up on a stage for a night and telling a story do that? I signed up to audition because I was full of my new year’s resolution to find and use my voice, but I didn’t expect it to change my life.

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I don’t know that I can really parse out how the whole thing works, much as I’ve been trying to here. I likely can’t tell you that any more than I can tell you how it really is to raise two babies at the same time.

But, thanks to this experience, I might just take a stab at trying to tell that story–and a whole bunch of others. These women have helped me see that I have stories worth telling and others I want to tell them to. I went looking for my voice, and I found it in a community of women who honored and amplified it. More importantly, I think I’ve also found the courage and heart to use it.

And that, my friends, just might be life-changing.

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All of these wonderful photos were taken by one of our sponsors, Elizabeth Sattelberger of www.lizilu.com. Please do not share without her permission.

Of eggs and small actions and big days

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One of my most precious eggs is rolling away.

That is OK. It is right. It is the fitting culmination (and simultaneous beginning, of course) of a huge creative endeavor.

It is amazing to me, how every finished creative work is the accumulation of so many, many small actions. Many of those actions are tedious–adding layer over layer of color, driving the car to a school, making dinner, putting a comma in and taking it out and putting it back in again. Cutting out a hundred tiny leaves.

And yet, there is a certain joy in them. There must be, or we wouldn’t persevere.

Tonight I join with a cast of amazing, talented women on a stage. There will be joy in the culmination, the celebration, the finished product. But no small part of it will be because–not in spite of–all the small actions each of us has taken to live and craft and share the stories we’ll be telling.

This truth, and my ability to live by it, is an egg I can keep within the walls of any shelter I might find or make.