27 November 2010


In dresser drawers in the basement of my parents' house in Virginia, there are a number of notebooks with writing only on the first four or five pages. For as long as I can remember, this is how I write. Unless I was on deadline for the newspaper or for academics, my writing happens when it needs to. This applies to journals, poetry, essays, and now, blogging. I share this by way of an apology for the long break in my posting. Sincerely I hope that as I settle into a winter routine that blogging emerges as a natural part of my weekly rhythms.

Perhaps I can provide some sense of the time elapsed, at least an anecdotal sense. Since I have last written:

-Back in October, I went to Anchorage for the Fall Retreat for Alaska JVs. At a charming lake-side conference center in Wasilla, AK (Palin spotting: zero) I rode in paddle boats, stomped crunchy leaves while wearing Keds, read Ishmael, caught up a bit with a friend from college, ate cereal with milk and fruit every morning for breakfast, and in the midst of a sudden walk I found a bird's nest. Perfectly intact. Meticulously assembled from all sorts of flora and fauna, flotsam and jetsam, and even some human hair. This stunning symbol of a sense of home illustrated my reflections of that particular weekend and of my JV year thus far--you will find what you need and you will know the way if you can trust that the scattered pieces will form something more whole than you had before.

-I have watched students leave school. Some were dismissed for violations of the code of conduct, some went back to their home villages to attend to family concerns, and some left looking for something else. I don't quite know what to make of any these departures. Each situation draws out different emotions--most commonly sadness, disappointment, and sometimes a mix of the two which I define as anger. In simplest terms, I am trying to learn how to care deeply for the students and provide all the "instructional support"--my official job title-- I can while they are enrolled at the school without worry for the before or after. This is easier said than done because students tend to share intimate aspects of their personal lives with me (the passenger seat of the car may as well be a shrink's couch) and these stories are difficult to forget. I can't deny my penchant for the dangerous game of emotional meshing--the less lovely sensation produced while attempting something like empathizing or "living in solidarity".

One student, a young woman I had driven to work every morning since August, was dismissed recently for violating the school's code of conduct. While I think she will most likely benefit from going home and gaining some perspective about the opportunities the school affords her, I still hated to see her go. Feeling a bit helpless and defeated, I drove her to the airport, helped her unload her things from the trunk, put my arms out for a hug which she decided not to participate in, so I just said, "Goodbye. Take care of yourself." I drove away, feeling sad and frustrated until I noticed her coffee-mug sitting in the cup holder. Since the start of school at least twice a week she seemed to forget her shinny blue mug--filled with more hazelnut-flavored CoffeeMate than actual coffee--in the school's vehicle. I couldn't help but laugh aloud as I turned the car around and walked into the one-room airport terminal. She was at the check-in counter taping up the cardboard boxes she had frantically packed. I tapped her on the shoulder, handed her the mug like I had done so many times before and in one of those two moves must have accidentally pressed her "RELEASE EMOTION!" button because the tears started steaming. She looked at me straight in the eyes, something she hadn't done all since I found out she was dismissed and said timidly, "I'm so sorry. Thank you for everything," which apparently is how to activate my "RELEASE EMOTION" function. Then she initiated a hug which I reciprocated and told her I was honored to get to know her and that I hope she will re-apply to the school when she is ready. I managed to save the full-blown crying until I was back in the car. Now, when I wear the beaded bracelet she made me back in September, I catch myself staring at it, marveling at the time and skill required to create it. I can only hope she learns to be proud of her talents and her gifts and apply them to the best use, rather than being so overcome by her insecurities and acting them out in harmful ways.

Maybe it's unfair to prescribe this hope to her, unless I also confess this is my daily hope for myself, too. In fact, that kind of mindset is a constant project and one that I imagine most, if not every, human being is always engaged in whether that be confident and assuredly, terrified and begrudgingly, or some mix of the two. In celebration or denial, we are all enrolled in this School of the Self. On this occasion of Thanksgiving weekend, maybe it's most appropriate for me to express some gratitude to all of those who constitute my "instructional support." Thank you to those who dabble in this role, as full- or part-time volunteers.

-I have lived the coldest Fall of my life. The wide sky above snowed some more. The tundra froze over for the majority of mid-October through mid-November, then a sudden front of above-freezing air thawed the icy terrain, turned it into slush, then mud, until it froze again, got blanketed in snowed, froze over, and got snowed on again (in a dazzling demonstration of a "White Thanksgiving"). It seems the atmosphere has self-regulated back to more appropriate winter temperatures. The thermometer on the back porch says it's currently 8 degrees F. I am still wearing a mid-weight winter coat and the fur-lined Tretorn boats. I am saving the Arctic parka and the Sorrel -60 boots for the subzero months to come.

-I have sipped hundreds of cups of tea and coffee thanks to care packages from family in Virginia and a very handsome barista in Southern California. My housemates also consume copious amounts of hot water, and as such we have developed quite the knack for breaking electric kettles. Three down...?? to go. At the moment, we are making do with a metal pitcher that we heat on the gas stove. It works well enough, although it has the side-effect of making me long for Seattle and days spent in front of an espresso machine pulling shots and steaming milk OR being on the customer side of that transaction and enjoying the delicious products of those efforts.

-I have been crafting away on a few projects, namely, miniature pop-up books for my niece and nephews back East featuring Alaskan animals, a cross-stitch entitled "Call of the Wilderness" featuring, you guessed it, wolves and a full-moon, and some stationary for holiday greetings. The combination of cold weather and a lack of Internet and cable TV at the house seem to be conducive to crafting.

-I have been doing a lot of housesitting. For instance, right now I am housesitting for a coworker, enjoying all the comforts of her home, including but not limited to comfy couches, a great tea selection (and means to easily heat water), a stocked pantry, Internet, the Planet Earth DVDs, and well-behaved dogs. Sometimes with all this time spent in the homes of practical strangers I feel like I am living out an Alaskan version of the movie 3-Iron, just without the trespassing or the forbidden romance.

I think that's all the catch-up I can muster at the moment, but I will write again soon. In the meantime, it's time to go take the dogs for a walk and then kick off the boots and have another cup of tea.

1 comment:

  1. It's not nice to make your father cry. Congratulations on a life well-lived. Not always easy, but always worth living. You inspire both contemplation and action--a tea kettle is on the way.