Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Beautifully Different. Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different – you’ll find they’re what make you beautiful.

I'm different, alright, sometimes cantankerously so.

Biggest difference: My smile is my response to so many prompts. If someone says something bright and happy, of course, then it's easy to smile. But when someone shares a difficulty, I try to encourage with my words and with my smile. I am not a clown or even a funny person. I take things way too seriously much of the time. I can find situational humor, slight verbal humor, easily, though - especially in the classroom, to keep certain aspects light and breezy. I am a positive thinker, very rarely slipping down into any kind of depression. This ability took conscious effort to develop, during the late nineties, following advice from all sorts of advice-givers and self-help books, including the Bible, Sarah Ban Breathnach (Simple Abundance) Norman Vincent Peale (The Power of Positive Thinking - my copy is autographed).

I've since moved on from the strictly Christian approach to embrace all things spiritual, a sort of Pan-spiritual approach (The Four Agreements is now an important source), but I can still call up help from Psalms or Ecclesiastes or the New Testament. Another source was a book that provided one poem each day. I still refer to it occasionally, but I also receive a poem each day in my e-mail, from Garrison Keillor's Writers' Almanac.

I also try (it is harder these days) to walk outside for a half hour each day, preferably as early in the day as possible. I find now that I need a Verilux light each morning as I am writing during the darker months of the year. Yes, cultivating a positive outlook is hard work, but it made classroom teaching much easier. It is very difficult to mentor and guide adolescents without clearing your own emotional table each day. Writing every morning in my gratitude journal (by which I mean my prayer notebook) also kept me ready for the vicissitudes of young teens and of public school practice.

The time I spent on my mood more than paid for itself in terms of fighting off burn-out, frustration, and a tendency to drift into the teachers' lounge to bitch. I don't practice all of those techniques each day now that I am not in a classroom with 100 adolescents each day, but I do most of them. I don't know anyone else who does quite this much to keep a smile on her face. I much prefer it, though, to the Sturm und Drang, the angst and borderline clinical depression I once suffered from.

Am I different in any other ways?

I like to ask questions. I don't always wait around for the answers before I'm off on another question. I collect questions the way I collect small round smooth stones. I feel in my bones that the ability to ask substantial questions is a skill we should cultivate in the young. I still haven't found support for that in the research and theory, but it hasn't stopped me from asking more questions. I don't think I ever get annoying, as I don't always ask my questions out loud. I'd like to get better at that, though, as there are too many people who aren't questioned loudly enough or often enough, and they get away with saying really silly things, that have really awful consequences. We should stop them in their tracks with pointed questions far more often. There's a difference, though, between asking pointed questions about silly statements, and stirring the pot, as journalists sometimes do in press conferences, where they poke into wounds or enrage large hives of bees just so there is a story to write about. Not good. Pot-stirring for drama's sake. I'm talking about thoughtful questions arrived at during reflection practiced on a regular basis.

I may be too reflective, and in its extreme, that may have been the source of some of my earlier mood difficulties. My questions are still cantankerous, occasionally, but I consider that a good quality, as they are aimed at policies that affect many people who have little control over anything else about their lives. Now, perhaps, I have grown into my habits, and control them a little more than I did when I was 19 or 22. I like people who smile a lot, who are thankful for little things as well as great good fortune, who ask good questions. I try to be that person.

On the lighter side, I like crows and other corvids. I talk to plants, trees, bodies of water, clearings in the woods, myself. Of course, who doesn't talk to herself?

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