Monday, March 28, 2011

Hanh's chapter on happiness

I just read a bit from the next chapter in Anger, "Restoring the Pure Land."

Making Happiness a Priority

From time to time we have to make a decision, and sometimes the decision is very difficult. We are forced to make a painful choice. But if we know what is most important to us, what we most deeply want for our life, the decision-making will become easier, and we won't have to suffer a lot. (189)

Thich Nhat Hanh on Anger

I found the following passage helpful last night, as I was reading Thich Nhat Hanh's Anger. I know I've been experiencing anger lately and have wanted to not do what I normally do with anger (suppress, repress, worry). I've been seeing a lot of my patterns lately and realizing how patience and perseverance may be the antidotes to some of my anger and acting out. It's just nice to learn how things can change for the better.

A good practitioner is not someone who no longer has any anger or suffering. This is not possible. A good practitioner is someone who knows how to take good care of her anger and suffering as soon as they arise. Someone who does not practice does not know how to handle the energy of anger when it manifests, and he or she can easily be overwhelmed by anger.

But if you practice mindful living, you do not allow anger to overwhelm you like that. You invite the seed of mindfulness up to take care of your anger. Mindful breathing and walking will help you to do this.

Habit Energy and Mindful Breathing

We all have habit energy in us. We are intelligent enough to know that if we do something or say something based on our habit energy, we will damage our relationships. And yet, even with this intelligence, we still do things out of anger, we still say things out of anger. Therefore, many of us have caused a lot of suffering in our relationships with other people. After the damage has been done, you are full of regret and you vow that you will never do such a thing again. You are very sincere; you have a great deal of good will. But the next time the situation presents itself, you do exactly the same thing, you say exactly the same thing, and you cause the same damage again and again.

Your intelligence, your knowledge, does not help you change your habit energy. Only the practice of recognizing, embracing, and transforming can help. That is why the Buddha advised us to practice mindful breathing to recognize and take care of our habit energy as soon as it manifests. If you are capable of embracing your habit energy with the energy of mindfulness, then you are safe, you are not going to make the same mistake again. (184-186)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Few Things on America's Education System

From "Obama's War on Schools," by Diane Ravitch:

NCLB mandated that 100 percent of students be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Any school not on track to meet this utopian goal—one never reached by any nation in the world—would face a series of sanctions, culminating in the firing of the staff and the closing of the school. As 2014 nears, tens of thousands of schools have been stigmatized as failures, thousands of educators have been fired, and schools that were once the anchors of their communities are closing, replaced in many cases by privately managed schools. NCLB turns out to be a timetable for the destruction of public education.

I think it's admirable for a country to have a public education system. I know research (by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) is showing that test scores rise in classes that have good teachers. Yet even if teachers were responsible for student performance (and they simply aren't), I don't see how shutting schools down solves the teacher problem. So you open some private or charter schools and guess what? You're still hiring from the same pool of potential teachers. And guess what else? These teachers have now been part of the No Child Left Behind generation, so they basically know shit. (I'm being harsh, and I'm sorry.)

In his recent State of the Union address, Obama rightly asserted that we must encourage innovation, imagination, and creativity so we can “win the future.” But the federal government’s emphasis on standardized tests subverts that lofty goal. Drilling children on how to take tests discourages innovation and creativity, punishes divergent thinking, and prioritizes skills over knowledge. And the endless hours devoted to test preparation certainly deaden students’ interest in school.

Emboldened by the Obama administration, as well as by hundreds of millions of dollars from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, many districts and states now plan to use test scores to evaluate teachers. Most of our nation’s leading testing experts think this is a risky path.

Teachers see these measures as an attack on their profession. Recently elected governors such as Scott Walker in Wisconsin and John Kasich in Ohio are ratcheting up the attack, pushing hard to end teachers’ collective-bargaining rights, while Mayor Michael Bloomberg in New York City, Gov. Chris Christie in New Jersey, and Gov. Rick Scott in Florida would like to eliminate seniority and due-process rights for teachers. Destroying the unions will silence the only organized voice that opposes draconian cuts to education budgets. Without that voice, schools can expect larger class sizes and reduced funding for the arts, school nurses, libraries, and other programs.

I heard that class size in Detroit high schools will be around 60 students per teacher, due to budget cuts. Should we consider it lucky, then, that Detroit now only has about 730,000 citizens (setting its population to pre-Ford days)?

At school, there is an old display that reads, "Creativity takes courage." And courage can't be measured or tested for.

I also heard an article on NPR this morning discussing how parents in Hartford sometimes still prefer to take their children to low-performing schools.

This is certainly what's happening where I teach. I don't believe that culture and education are incompatible; it's just that shutting down our public schools is a problem. And the logic that parents are going to choose higher performing schools just simply doesn't hold . . . so it starts to sound like there are forces at work that seek to widen the gap between the rich and the poor (when one connects education to socio-economics).

Local Owl Poses for Area Boyfriend

Look what's in Bill's backyard! He says this is the baby owl and that the mother is whiter.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Oklahoma Adventure

I want to share that I went on a hike yesterday at Osage Hills State Park. It was just the experience I needed.

I came across a tree, an old tree entwined with new tree; their roots were exposed--erosion from the hillside on which the trees grew had pulled the soil into the river below. I could stand alongside the trees and see inside them. I could see the outside, too,--the white bark of the young tree smooth and bright against a cloudy sky and brown dirt. There were snail shells in the soil by the roots. I pulled some up and inspired by friends' own adventures, I created a little shell offering for the tree.

(I can't help but think of all that water has destroyed lately. There is still grief and mourning.)

The hike continued. I fell in the thick mud, created earlier in the day by Oklahoma storms--the season begins. On the drive to the Park, I passed baby and grown-up cows and goats. In falling, I realized somethings will cake off as time goes along. A man, acting in some manner I don't know how to describe other than domineering and idiotic in an unthreatening and annoying way, would later call to me, "Your pants are all dirty. I just thought you should know that." Once, Mom and I conjectured that men didn't know how to be quiet around women in nature.

I climbed rocks and did two things that scared me. At a separate rock climbing I got a big whiff of moss; in a related, but not completely, point, I was wondering why I wasn't fantasizing about making love outdoors, like I normally do.

I saw things.

At one point, I frightened turkey vultures by the lake. I was the only one around and I watched nine of them circle above me and I watched as their circle swirled to the south and then back west, towards me and where I assumed their nests were. But I couldn't see any nests.

Bill says there is a momma and a baby owl in his or his neighbor's back yard. They hoot around 6 or 7:30--a call and response of feeding time: "Time to come in and eat dinner." (That was always the best and the worst call of being a kid. The night would never feel the same as a late twilight, when all the night spread out ahead of you and your imagination.) We saw the full moon last night as it peeked its bright orange way above the skyline. We saw its bright yellow later in the night as it created a double shadow off the clouds that passed in front of it. "I have never seen that before," Bill said. "I haven't, either," I replied while he stood behind me and we held on to each other. It felt like a moment that I would have that I could go back to and remember that we were once really in love with each other. And I hope it grows. I know it will.

Like when I stood by the lake yesterday, before seeing the turkey vultures (and that's when the sky began to clear and the sun shone), and I wished for certain people to be happy. I want that for people that vex me and those that have vexed me. I have let go of the past before and it gets easier as I go along. What I want for everyone is happiness, that deep down joy. (It's hard for me now to hold the joy of everyone in my wishes. Instead, I want just one other person to be happy.)

I got lost on my hike once, but it was ok because I knew in general where I was going. I knew I was going forward. And I knew I couldn't get too lost. But then I knew I needed to be careful about what I knew. And later I heard the party that had met up at a picnic area. They played bad karaoke to "Free Bird," and I thought, "Only in Oklahoma." Just like only in Oklahoma are the hikes kind of bizarre, like the trails sometimes just lead to fields and drop you off. I saw no snakes, but I did see an old stone structure once used to house dynamite. I know the Works Progress Administration made many Oklahoma parks. And I wish, now, that we could use our human power to create something beautiful that a lost soul could, many years from now, when we still haven't yet destroyed ourselves, use to ground herself.

I wish I could have my students be proud of the revolutions in the Middle East, but bombing and shooting begin again. "War is hard, but peace is harder." This is what I think as I think about the world. The rich keeps getting richer. And this only bothers me because whole generations are growing up throwing themselves into half-assed math to make some extra money; we don't throw ourselves into projects, do we? I would like some different creations. As I drove back from my hike, I was wishing there were light rails and bicycle trails.

I saw a median full of daffodils in bright yellow and golden yellow. In my neighborhood, one neighbor has big daffodils and their next-door neighbor has little daffodils. One day, a cold day last week or so, Bill said of different daffodils that he bet they were pissed they chose this day to come out. He thought maybe they were crocuses. I said they were daffodils, but I can't honestly say I know what a crocus looks like nor have I looked it up.

I just know of turkey vultures because I saw them on a different hike with a different man and then with another man. Just like the river reminded me of the St. Vrain, and it made me homesick and reminded me of kissing another man and another man and another man. What I created yesterday was new memories for myself based on old memories involving others.

All of that is dead now. I go forward. Similar to how I went yesterday, not so much "communing" as "trouncing." Sometimes "tramping," but not "careening." All of the wishes I have, I sent them. All of the hope I have is small. All of the gratitude I have wears thin due to drowsiness. But what I hold with me is the larger sense of getting dirty and getting scared. I hold the knowledge of vulture wingspan and of an oil derrick smoothly moving in a cultivated wild space.

Religion and Education

I just picked up Osho's Courage: The Joy of Living Dangerously. I think some of it is crap, but it is filled with some good bits. Here's one:

"With so many religious people, the world is so irreligious--how is this miracle happening? Everybody is religious and the total is irreligiousness. The religion is false. People have 'cultivated' trust. Trust has become a belief, not an experience. They have been taught to believe, they have not been taught to know--that's where humanity has missed" (24).

I had been feeling remorseful about not wanting to be a teacher any longer (or ever again) and then I realized that everyone is a teacher no matter what they do, so I calmed down. I want to be one who teaches knowing; I want to know, too.

I have a friend who likes to quote Julia Cameron (or Julia, as we like to call her), "You know when you know." You do know when you know. And Osho says not to make the same mistake twice. Doubt prevents you from trusting what you know; so it becomes a web that weave--one of trust and knowledge.

Love Continues: Fiona Apple

"If there was a better way to go then it would find me."

Friday, March 18, 2011

Super Movie Me

I've watched some more movies that I'm not proud of admitting; such movies include Battle: LA. I thought it was going to be completely different than what it was, a shooting movie with a lot of shooting. I thought it was going to be more like District 9, which I liked. I enjoyed watching Battle: LA with Bill, though, and making stupid comments throughout. On a sentimental note, the whole experience showed me how nice it is to have a partner. It was a different feeling than one I've had before, and I can't name why it was different.

On my own, I finished watching Super High Me, which I thought was a disappointment. I think Doug Benson is funny and that the movie had good potential, but it didn't really teach me anything new. Perhaps I think they relied on the catchy premise and then didn't push much of an analysis. Then I watched Super Size Me, which I thought was very informative and well-crafted.

Bill and I watched Noise last night. It was a good movie; Tom Robbin's character was cute and it was a nice mix of serious and funny. It made an interesting point without being pedantic.

Thanks to Sassy's suggestion, I am going to try putting these movie reviews on the side of the blog. We'll see how it goes!

The list I've started keeping of movies I've watched this year:
Eat, Pray, Love: Nay
Black Swan: Yay
Hannah and Her Sisters: Yay
Chinatown: Yay
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex* But Were Afraid to Ask: Yay
True Grit (2010): Yay
Inception: Yay
How to Train Your Dragon: Yay
The King's Speech: Yay
The Big Sleep: Yay
Kingdom of Spiders: N/A (due to kitsch factor)
Hall Pass: It is what it is. Why am I even keeping track and rating my movies?
Super High Me: Nay/Yay
Super Size Me: Yay
Battle: LA: Nay
Noise: Yay

Monday, March 14, 2011

Art Art Art and Art

I've been sticking my head in the proverbial sand as far as current events go--I know the basics, and I just feel overwhelmed. I'm working my way out, yet in that, I don't have anything to say. I do have things to say about art, though.

I just read this article, "The Flipside with Jack White: Upholstery and His Rarest Records," on Jack White and how has hid clear vinyl albums in furniture he reupholstered . . . 'cuz he worked as an upholsterer. Art in craft and art actually in craft. Hidden things. Things complete because they are hidden. Things meant to be heard that go unheard and they are meant to be unheard so they are complete in being incomplete. I love these kinds of things.

White: Yeah. [Though] most of the stuff I'd write was on the wood frame in the furniture. 'Cause I thought — something hit me as a teenager while I was apprenticing in Detroit at an upholstery shop. I said to the guy, Brian Muldoon, was teaching me — I said, "How come we don't write notes to each other? Upholsters. We're the only ones who see the insides of this furniture. We should have so many inside jokes and things we could write." You know, "This guy was a jerk. He wouldn't pay for this." We should be telling each other what was the story on these couches. I started to write a little bit about, well, this is where I got this chair and the person who hired me to do it — a little bit of that. [And] maybe on the other side, underneath, I'd hide a poem or something like that.

And then we started to — the zenith of that [was when] Brian and I had a band called The Upholsterers [and] for the 25th anniversary of his shop, we made a hundred pieces of vinyl. We made a record we stuff into furniture that you could only get if you ripped the furniture open. We even made it on clear vinyl with transparency covers — we thought you couldn't even X-ray it to see if it was in there. I'm talking about — really, you could rip open a couch and think it's not there 'cause it's inside the foam — sliced inside the foam and slid in there. I mean, we really went to great lengths to make sure possibly no one would ever hear our record! But it's there. It's so great. It's there. There's a hundred pieces of furniture out there that have those records, and maybe one day someone will find them.

Boilen: No one's found one yet?

White: No one's found one yet, no.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Thoughts with Japan

I don't have anything new to add to what's been happening in Japan; I feel extremely sad and concerned about what is happening. From NPR's "Japan In Race To Avert Nuclear Disaster":

In the early morning hours Monday in Japan, authorities declared the lowest level state of emergency at the Onagawa nuclear power plant after detecting radiation exceeding allowable levels in the air outside the facility. Officials are now trying to confirm the source of radiation.

Fears of radiation exposure from an explosion Saturday and overheating in one of six reactors at Fukushima No. 1 plant — also known as Daiichi — a site 170 miles northeast of Tokyo had already prompted the evacuation of more than 200,000 people living within 12 miles of the complex.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Wanting to do anything besides what I'm doing now . . .

It's five minutes before I head of to school, and I finished the last two pages of Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart; some invaluable words:

When we find ourselves in a mess, we don't have to feel guilty about it. Instead, we could reflect on the fact that how we relate to this mess will be sowing the seeds of how we will relate to whatever happens next. We can make ourselves miserable, or we can make ourselves strong. The amount of effort is the same. Right now we are creating our state of mind for tomorrow, not to mention this afternoon, next week, next year, and all the years of our lives. (144-145)
--Pema Chodron

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

This Week's Artist's Date

Please raise your hand if you are nurturing* the artist inside you.

This girl is trying to do just that, and has been following Julia Cameron's advice to have an artist's date. This week I am too proud of myself not to share . . .

Because I have baked something that actually isn't atrocious! This week's date found me with some souring red wine (read: still consumable), a bit o' biscuit mix, pancake mix, and a rotting banana. Do we see where we're going with this? Yes, we went to banana biscuits with cinnamon, craisins, and kiss of peanut butter in the middle. (Goddamn genius, I tell you. Or is the wine saying this?)

I love not following recipes, using easy ingredients, and discovering something edible. And this (all of this!) while listening to my new favorite artist, Neko Case.

Here's to more dates with ourselves and seeing what we come up with!

*By nurturing the artist, I don't mean forcing it work the way you want it to work by being the writer, painter, sculptor, knitter, etc. you think you should be. I mean nurturing your creative side by having fun and playing around--giving yourself more material to draw from for when you do get down to the dirty business of art.

Lent 2011!

I fell in love with Lent last year because it's a nice reminder of preparing yourself for something larger, a rebirth. Last year I gave up craisins in my oatmeal. I also instituted a second period of Lent wherein I gave up sex. This year I'm giving up nail polish on both my fingers and my toes. I already hate it, so I think this might be a good one for me. I'm noticing my desire to look good come into play. And since not wearing nail polish is an easy thing to do, it's a nice reminder to be in the moment and act with gratitude towards the things I do have. I'm not into deprivation, but I am into changing things and noticing what happens; so here's to this season of Lent and experiencing life in subtle, different ways!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Aiming for Cultural Neutrality Here

Bill and I watched another movie this weekend, and I'm reluctant to share which one. So I'm going to say it quickly: HallPassanditwasfinenobiggieitmademelaughinacoupleofspotsandmademethinkthatbeingamaninthissocietywithmoviesreducingyoutoyouridiocyandobvioussexualitymaybejustasbadasbeingawomanreducedtoyourcontrollingrelationshipbehaviorandintheendeverythingisalrightandourfamiliesarenotfallingapartphewthankgoodnessandithoughtofhowisometimeslikepopculturealotandsometimesitisreallyannoyingandithoughtofhowiusedtoputeverythingintheoreticaltermsandidontmissthatpartofmeatallbutireallymisshearingnewconversationswhichiswhyienjoythelibrarysomuchbecausepeoplehavesomuchtosayandsomuchiswritten, like Slavoj Zizek's book, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce, which examines the economic collapse. There are a couple of quotes I like from the book so far. But damn if I'm having a difficult time remembering some theoretical terms. For example, aren't there multiple meanings of "ideology"? But Zizec just seems to embrace one meaning and acts like I should know which one he's using in Part 1 of his book, "It's Ideology, Stupid!" Here are a couple of quotes (quotes that aren't getting to the thesis of his idea regarding economics, but I'm not giving a book report, so I don't care):

"truth is partial, accessible only when one takes sides, and is not less universal for this reason" (6).

"Immanuel Kant countered the conservative motto 'Don't think, obey!' not with the injunction 'Don't obey, think!' but rather 'Obey, but think!' When we are transfixed by events such as the bail-out plan, we should bear i mind that since this is actually a form of blackmail we must resist the populist temptation to act out our anger and thus wound ourselves. Instead of such impotent acting-out, we should control our fury and transform it into an icy determination to think--to think things through in a really radical way, and to ask what kind of a society it is that renders such blackmail possible." (17)

The list I've started keeping of movies I've watched this year:
Eat, Pray, Love: Nay
Black Swan: Yay
Hannah and Her Sisters: Yay
Chinatown: Yay
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex* But Were Afraid to Ask: Yay
True Grit (2010): Yay
Inception: Yay
How to Train Your Dragon: Yay
The King's Speech: Yay
The Big Sleep: Yay
Kingdom of Spiders: N/A (due to kitsch factor)
Hall Pass: It is what it is. Why am I even keeping track and rating my movies?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Fundraiser for Domestic Violence Intervention of Lebanon County

A very kind friend from college sends word that she is helping to organize a 5K to put an end to domestic violence. A couple of things to note: 1) Domestic violence related deaths in small Lebanon County are rivaling those in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. 2) If you or someone you know could use more information about domestic violence and resources available for help, you can call the national number toll free at 1-866-686-0451.

Iron Rail 5K

Mobilizing positive community action to support healthy personal relationships

Fundraiser to benefit Domestic Violence Intervention of Lebanon County and Lebanon Valley Rails to Trails

Saturday, April 30th
Starts and ends across the street from the new Lebanon city parking lot for Rails to Trails on S. 8th Street. The course will be on Rails to Trails. Flat, fine gravel terrain.

8am Check-in
9am Race starts
9:15am Fun run/walk starts
$15 if you pre-register before April 2nd (includes a t-shirt)
$20 after April 2nd and day of event (t-shirt not guaranteed)
There will be prizes for the top three male and female race participants. No age brackets.

Any questions, contact the event coordinator:
Erin Johnson:

We are on Facebook, "Iron Rail 5K"
DVI's website:
Rails to Trails website:

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"Bright Girls"

Whoa, Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson's article, "The Trouble With Bright Girls," explains my entire life.

. . . Bright Girls, when given something to learn that was particularly foreign or complex, were quick to give up; the higher the girls' IQ, the more likely they were to throw in the towel. In fact, the straight-A girls showed the most helpless responses. Bright boys, on the other hand, saw the difficult material as a challenge, and found it energizing. They were more likely to redouble their efforts rather than give up.

Why does this happen? What makes smart girls more vulnerable and less confident when they should be the most confident kids in the room? At the 5th grade level, girls routinely outperform boys in every subject, including math and science. So there were no differences between these boys and girls in ability, nor in past history of success. The only difference was how bright boys and girls interpreted difficulty -- what it meant to them when material seemed hard to learn. Bright Girls were much quicker to doubt their ability, to lose confidence and to become less effective learners as a result.

Researchers have uncovered the reason for this difference in how difficulty is interpreted, and it is simply this: More often than not, Bright Girls believe that their abilities are innate and unchangeable, while bright boys believe that they can develop ability through effort and practice.