Archive for August, 2010

Light in August

August 25, 2010

Late August has its own unique character—the end of summer, wilting with melancholy, languid with hot summer evenings, child-joy being subtly eroded by shadow’s undertow, sundialing toward lockers and school clocks.

Being neither a kid nor a teacher, I don’t really get a summer vacation and this takes the edge off of late summer’s mournful meander.  I watch from the riparian netherworld—not so sad as the child I once was dreading that first day of school, mostly for being so far from that last day of school, but nevertheless still moved by the river of life, my boys’ lugubrious lament and their sweet regression to long-forgotten games where they left little bits of childhood parked in corners, closets and card-packs.

Full-on parents feel the secret relief of school and the opening of a slice of days while still savoring August the way we intensify our last licks of the ice-cream cone dwindling to that tiny morsel of softened crunch, and then it’s gone.

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Soft Travel to Sacred Spaces

August 18, 2010

A friend who has had a rough couple of years sent me a mesmerizing birthday present:  Hard Travel to Sacred Places by Rudolph Wurlitzer.  My generous and thoughtful friend recently lost his wife, and the book is about a couple who had recently lost their son, traveling to sites sacred, profane, heartbreaking and ironic in Thailand, Burma and Cambodia while trailing their own unshakable angst-cloud.

We all try to have a good time, to live good lives; we struggle as to how to do this in the face of so-called “reality” (materialism, shallowness, impermanence, loss, decline and death); and we struggle to be effectively compassionate to ourselves and others when the road gets rough—in parenting, in work and love, in our harrowing and sometimes transcendent journeys through life’s cycles.

While my friends and clients come and go from all manner of far flung places (some rough and some posh) I’m generally content to arm-chair travel and whether it be five star dining in Paris or nearly dying in a Calcutta hospital I rarely wish that I had been there—it’s more like through my friends and clients I know that some part of me was there, is “there” (and I’m increasingly happy to live the narrower part of me, of us, who is wherever I happen to be).

I guess we’re all having different sorts of summers, and yet together there is ultimately one endless collective summer, some sum of all our parts.  One of my favorite passages in Hard Travel comes when Wurlitzer and his wife visit Tham Krabok (which means Opium-Pipe Cave Monastic Center), a sort of uber-detox haven for all manner of addictions catering to people from all over Asia and the world—hard core getting clean and sober (in the early days of recovery everyone drinks a potion of 150 secret herbs in the a.m., sauna sweats in the afternoon and then a group-puke into concrete troughs in the p.m.).

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Student Teaching Learning

August 11, 2010

“We can’t return we can only look behind

From where we came,

And go round and round and round

In the circle game”  Joni Mitchell

With “Sixteen springs and sixteen summers (nearly) gone now” I find myself living my own bit of circle game…

When I was a kid in elementary and middle school (and through most of high school) sitting in a classroom was akin to torture.  Big clocks ticked with surreal slowness and books packed with useless information beckoned with about as much allure as badly cooked bitter greens to a child’s ice-cream-attuned palate.

I later learned to love learning, and after a long (and expensive) journey through educations in both film and psychology, I found myself back in the boring classroom—the one in which no one, neither student nor teacher, truly wants to be.  As a psychologist assigned to a caseload of severely disturbed children, I was mandated to provide an hour of weekly therapy (plus a host of other case coordination tasks), however, many of the kids initially refused therapy (“you’re my fifth therapist in three years, why should I talk to you?”).  This was particularly tricky with the kids who lived in their dysfunctional households; the ones who lived in the group home I could corner in their rooms and, lacking anyone to talk to, would more quickly soften; often you couldn’t get them out of your office… once the bond was made.

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Parents who don’t need help…

August 4, 2010

Standing at the register at Big Five, exchanging a bike pump, a sporty mom with glasses glided up behind a jaunty three-wheeled stroller, saying to her toddler, “The unicorn wants to stay on the shelf,” to which the adorable toddler’s face wrinkled into consternation at her mother’s obtuse understanding of unicorns and she cried out, “The unicorn does not want to stay on the shelf!”

I smiled at the mom and went back to my transaction, half listening as the mom elegantly walked the tightrope of love and limits, really hearing her child’s wants and acknowledging them yet showing no sign of immanent caving in, thus sparing the child the wasted energy of a tantrum.

Outside the window, the farmers’ market was in full swing:  strollers to the left of me, pony-rides to the right… so many parents.  My mind went to two slightly fraying business cards my wallet—little “Privilege of Parenting” cards that I sometimes handed out when I first started blogging—building my “platform” much the way I once made a lamp in seventh-grade woodshop, not because I wanted or needed a lamp, but because the teacher told me to do it.  But over the months my cards had become like French Letters in the wallet of a teen with no prospects, slowly forming a fit with the leather.

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