All posts tagged light

Still Emerging… Bit By Bit

Published December 3, 2012 by Susan Woodward

I haven’t written anything in a long, long time.  For some reason, I have found it hard to sit and do the thing that I actually love to do… write.  I’ve felt unmotivated, dry, and actually a bit dead inside.   Maybe a part of me has died.   I spent the entire summer working on rebuilding an entire curriculum based on the Common Core Standards and the PARCC framework.  It was completely unlike what I have done in the past with my students, and seemed as if it would be so overwhelming to them and to me.  And my heart sunk.  My creative spirit felt sucked out of me, and I wondered how I would be able to inspire myself to keep going, let alone inspire kids.  With that went my personal spirit.

My heart has not been in the things I have loved for so long, and I am not sure how to overcome that.  It has been dark and dank inside that cave, and some of that darkness has crept inside me as well.  I want and am trying to emerge from it, but every time I reach that entrance, I run into a situation that sends me scurrying back inside– usually a situation of my own doing.  I say and do the wrong things and then feel guilty or angry with myself, so I retreat.  It’s a hell of lot easier there.  With a few exceptions, I have spent most of the past six months inside not reading, not writing, and not really connecting.  Just existing.  And worrying.  And fearing that I wasn’t going to be able to meet the demands that I knew were waiting for me in September.

At first, I was just taking a break from the hectic end of the school year.   I was exhausted and all I wanted to do was rest.   I told myself that I was going to finally write, write, write… and then nothing.   I’d open the files and my heart wasn’t in it.  And so I just shut it down…and after a bit, shut myself down.  The re-boot button came with the new school year, and I have thrown myself into this new mess of APPR, CCSS, PARCC, SLO, PLC, and a host of other acronyms.  All those capital letters are like someone shouting at me, screaming across the screen, and I push and I push myself to try to live up to what “they” in Albany want.  I have managed to do what I need to in order to be in compliance with all that is required of me, but at the cost of my spirit.  Compliance.  Not the best word to describe someone who really is passionate about teaching… but I felt the life getting sucked out of me in order to meet these new demands.

All I really want to do is teach literature.  I want to teach poetry.  I want to do all the things that I have done in past years that have gone successfully with the kids.

I’ve tried my very, very best to take it all in stride and make the necessary adjustments.  New lesson plans for new units, all being presented in completely new ways.  Non-fiction, informative texts as prescribed, with as much literature as I could weave in and still be in compliance.  I modeled everything I did after the PARCC framework and made sure that I hit as many of the Common Core Standards as humanly possible with my lessons.  The first quarter was daunting and exhausting.   My lessons were meticulously aligned, but it didn’t feel like me at all.  I felt robotic, and even though I tried to be enthusiastic, I felt so overwhelmed.  The amount of writing assignments I gave fit the PARCC to a “T” and I tried to be diligent in grading them; however, the harsh reality is that with the 4-6 analysis pieces, the research paper, the narrative writing, the persuasive writing, the routine writing, the vocabulary work, and the reading quizzes for over 120 students, the paperwork turned into an avalanche that buried me.   Evenings and weekends became practically nothing but papers, papers, and more papers.  I pushed myself to finish by the deadline, and I was nearly dead inside myself.   I didn’t see the meaning in making kids jump through all these new hoops and I found myself crawling through an ever narrowing tunnel that threatened to squeeze the very life out of me.  And I began to shut down even more.

And now we are in the second quarter.

I know from past years that I have done good work with my kids.  I know that my passion for the work of Joseph Campbell has fueled my lessons, and I know that I have had kids come back in later years to tell me that I did a good job.  So this quarter, I am going back to what I know.  I can tweak things to make sure all the Standards are being hit, but I am not going to put my kids or myself through those PARCC hoops again… at least not until it becomes mandate.  For right now, I am trying to reach in and bring forth the teacher that I have been in the past.

And fortunately, good news has arrived.  It’s possible that NY State might reject the framework after all!  Oh happy day!  I can finally see a ray of light at the mouth of my cave, and maybe, just maybe I can re-emerge.

But coming out of that self-imposed darkness isn’t as easy as I’d hoped as it has crept into my soul.   When I do leave the house other than for work, I find that I am anxious to just go home again.  With the coming of advent, I have once again inched toward the door, hoping that with the coming of the light will be the coming of my lost spirit.


Altared Perceptions: December 2011- “Engagement”

Published January 8, 2012 by Susan Woodward

The theme for the month of December 2011 was “engagement” and we were asked to think about how we not only engage with others, but how we engage with ourselves and the world at large.  

When I first saw the decorations in the church, I was awestruck.  I have always admired the creativity of those who decorate the sanctuary, but this really did blow me away.

The overall effect was quite dazzling, and this picture does not do it justice.  What I see about how this relates to the theme of “engagement” is how the tree is personifies the act of giving.  It reminds me of an earlier post that I wrote about For Giving, Not For Getting.   Notice that there aren’t any gifts under the tree.

This takes away the notion of “getting” something; however, the tree is shaped like a person, and the gift bow is ON the tree, symbolizing that the gift is the person herself  (I shall say “herself” because the tree is obviously depicted as a female!).

I also like the stance of the “person”: hands on hips as if to say, “Not what you were expecting, huh?”   For some, this might be surprising, like my students whose first question to me after returning to school after the holiday break was, “What did you get for Christmas?”

I loved the idea of engaging in being a gift to others instead of thinking about what one might “get” for the holidays.

The detail of the “head” of the person is a lit star.  For me, this symbolizes how we bring light to others.  No matter what tradition one celebrates at this time of year, light seems to be a central focus.  There is the Star of Bethlehem that the Wise Men followed, the lights of the Menorah to commemorate the continuation of light even after the oil ran low during Hanukkah, and even the return of the Sun God on the Winter Solstice for Earth-based believers.  No matter what one believes about the symbolism of the light, this reminds me that we should always strive to bring light to others, especially to those who live most of their lives in darkness.

The detail of the shoes makes me think about how I might try to “put myself in another’s shoes” more often.   As part of being a gift to others, what better gift could we give but one of empathy?  Not pity, or sympathy… but putting ourselves in their place and try to bring to them the most joy we can.  This applies to all year, not just during the holiday season.

The beauty of Nature was depicted by the snowflakes that descended on either side of the altar.   And true to the spirit of being kind to the Earth, the decorations were made out of scraps of tin foil and white plastic garbage bags.  Things that are normally thrown away in our society were transformed into something lovely.

While I am not entirely sure what the “Altar Society” had in mind when creating this work of art, these are my impressions.  I most certainly welcome any and all engaging comments… I would love to hear your thoughts about what you see!

Season of Light: Illumination

Published November 25, 2011 by Susan Woodward

  We are now entering my favorite time of the year… the season of light.  While there is light all year round, and candles are just as cheap an alternative to electric light in July, there’s something magical about preparing for the return of the natural light.   I always get a very cozy feeling as I prepare to set up my tree filled with white lights.  It’s hard to try to figure out why that same feeling just doesn’t come about during the other eleven months of the year.  Maybe it’s the heat of summer.  Maybe it has to do with the fact that the sun doesn’t go down till about nine in August. But there is certainly something about the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas that makes me long for quiet evenings filled with candles and a lighted tree.

I could always just leave the tree up… I have been known to delay taking it down till March before.  I just love that soft glow.

I am so not a fan of harsh light.  It’s unflattering, unromantic, and unsympathetic to the aging process.

I guess, though, what I am most looking forward to this Season of Light is illumination.  I want the internal light bulb to go on and show me how best to proceed through this labyrinth.   I have a very strong sense that I am at some sort of crossroad.  The past two years have been filled with so many changes, and those changes have been preparing me for something.  And it’s that “something” that I still can’t identify.

At this point, I am soon to be relieved of the last major material item in my life… my house.   And that is very freeing in a way.  In a country that defines us by our material possessions, I am letting go of the one thing that most people in America seem to want.  Property.  Their name on a deed somewhere that says this plot of the Earth is “Mine”.   But I really don’t care about that anymore.  I did.  I wanted to plant forever roots as badly as anyone else who ever wanted the American Dream… that illusion of success.  All it did was tie me down in a financial pit that was difficult to climb out of.  In pulling up those roots, I gave myself permission to be free.

But free to do what?  Now that’s the question of the hour.  What is it I want?  To write, yes… and I can do that anywhere.  To teach?  Well… I do love being in the classroom, I will say that.  But it is becoming more and more of a burden than the joy I used to feel.   It’s harder when class sizes are growing and trying to keep up with paperwork that is threatening to overwhelm me, and state demands that seem downright unfair to both teachers and students.   I am teaching writing when what I truly want to do is write myself… and that realization does weigh on me.  I teach students about The Hero’s Journey, and all the while I still wonder where my own journey will take me.  Those snippets of time that I carve out for myself when not grading papers or going to meetings seem to just fly by when I am in the middle of some other world… one of my creation.  I love delving into the internal world of my imagination because I am so often surprised by what I find there.

Still…. what am I really free to do?

That’s where I want my illumination.  I want to bring my internal world into the light.  But like any expectant mother longing for the birth of her child, there is a lot of fear involved in the birthing process.   While a mother worries about the health of her child, a writer (at least this writer) worries about how his work will be received in this world.

It’s true that I will not know if anyone reads these words or not unless there is some feedback… and it’s true that I am okay with that.  But my novel is another story.  I want it to live.  I want it to grow.  I want it to be loved and appreciated just like any other mother wants for her child.

And so I look to the light for guidance.   With my warm cozy candles and white tree lights, I will continue to write the story of Francis and allow the light to lead me along on her path.  And via her path, I hope to find my own way.  That is what I am waiting for this holiday season… this time of preparing for the return of the light.  I am anticipating its warmth and will allow it to wash over my spirit, illuminating my true path, whatever it is and wherever it will take me.   I have freed myself of most material goods that have weighed me down, and I am open to what life has to offer.

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