Strings of Control

25 Jul
Late into the night
Early in the morning
Noon when the sun is high
high above my head
I think about it!
With soft tender eyes--
The possibility
One that I spent so many years 
carefully evading
I sit on my honey-brown leather couch
And dream each day what would it be like
Will it be easy, hard, challenging, free
Exciting, calm, frustrating, exhausting?
Just then, the very moment I smile--
They fly in
like irritating bites, they sting and itch
I try to ignore each one to ensure my skin isn't broken
But they stay for days
Demanding my attention
Until I scratch 
scratch the surface
Fear
A constant reminder that I am human
and don't have control over this--
over Anything
I scratch in hopes of releasing it
yet it lingers, 
the air about me
Desire
You push 
push me to expect
To believe
And I want to
I want to see it:
The laughter, the fights, the love
The cycle complete
with Me as their puppet:
Easily pulled and easily pushed
dark, thin strings 
strings of control

A Bead, A Pearl

14 Jul
Deep inside me 
under all the layers
close to the warm core
lies a bead, a pearl sized bead

I look to it
when I'm alone
I examine each side and slant and curve
I hold it tight
I let it slip 

Deep inside me
under all the layers
close to the warm core
lies a bead

I grab it
when I'm drowning
I roll it in my palm
gently in circles
I keep it still
I let it be

Deep inside me
under all the layers
close to the warm core
lies a bead, a pearl
a pearl

A Tasting of New Perspective

10 Jul

Caracas, Venezuela.  On my top ten travel destinations for one reason:  Arepas!  The arepa is a simple flat bread made from corn flour and water, then fried in a pan.  In Venezuela, it is then cut open and stuffed like a sandwich with a variety of ingredients.  I first had an arepa for dinner in a hole in the wall restaurant with my foodie buddies JBS and EBS.  I ordered the La Jadinera arepa and ate it moaning with each bite–a habit I can’t seem to kick.  Since that first night of a $5 dinner, Caracas, the restaurant, became my favorite spot to chill between classes in the city and the first place to take all friends who visited the city.  Bobby Flay even hosted a Throwdown episode at Caracas!

Once I left the city, I missed this place so much that I taught myself how to make the arepa de Pollo and got decent at having it at home.  However, nothing came close to the arepas at Caracas.  It’s the first meal I have as soon as I arrive in New York City.  That was until last March.

Arepa de Los Muchachos at Caracas!

EBS, MWA, and I had arrived on our third annual girls trip–not knowing that this may be our last trip for a while–we planned our usual routines of rotating beds so each of us had one bed to our self for one night and each of us picked one meal that we must have no matter what.  EBS chose her usual, Genarro and I chose, Caracas.  We went for Sunday brunch early to beat the rush.

If you’ve never walked around New York early on a Sunday morning, add it to your bucket list right now!  The city is bright and silent.  Memories from last night’s parties float down from above.  Shop owners and chefs walk calmly to work.  The sidewalks seem wider than the night before and taxis line the roads in abundance.  The three of us walked toward Caracas in a nearly vacant East Village.  We arrived so early that the restaurant hadn’t even opened yet–a sign of traveling in your thirties.  So we walked around our old friend and waited.  By the time Caracas opened, my hunger had quickened.  I was so glad to be back in this comforting spot, ready to taste the familiar flavors.

A series of red flags followed which I ignored one by one because my memories were just a little stronger.  First red flag:  when EBS tried to order Venezuelan Coffee, the server gave a confused glance and reminded us that they had Blue Bottle coffee.  EBS and I exchanged a “what the fuck” look.  Second red flag:  the menu had changed and my favorites were suddenly missing!  I can be flexible–sometimes–so I ordered one new arepa Leeks Jadinera and an old favorite, de pollo.  Third red flag:  our arepas arrived looking similar to the ones that I so dearly loved for so many years.  Yet, one bite told me that this place had changed.  It was not the Caracas of my twenties.  It had grown into a larger business and this meant a change in flavors.  I ate completely disappointed.  My heart sunk and shriveled.  I had the choice of one meal and it was this mediocre one.  My attempts of being okay with the change didn’t fool anyone.  The girls tried to make it better by discussing how the owners may be working a little less now and perhaps had a better quality of life.  Maybe they can afford vacations now.  The question that lingered in the air was:  why does the quality have to go down once a restaurant expands and gets more locations?  Does financial security immediately mean lower quality/less passion for the art form?

After being really upset and having to walk it off, I began to explore this idea of becoming a successful teacher and what that means in my life today.  Has the quality of my teaching gotten poorer or have I let go of needing everything to be perfect and less uptight about the classroom?  If one of my former students sat in on one of my class today, would they hate the taste and long for the familiar taste of a Ms. C from their past?  I would like to say that the quality of my teaching has gotten better that each year I come a little closer to genuine experiential learning.  I would like to say that I have also become more successful and the two are not mutually exclusive.  But the truth is there are many things that I made a part of my job that simply aren’t anymore.  I don’t discipline students the same way.  I don’t teach my mini lessons in the same way.  And I don’t get worked up over disagreements with students or colleagues for weeks at a time becoming so obsessively anxiety ridden trying to solve the other human whom I really don’t have any control over.  So the quality of my life has definitely improved.   Not being stressed in the way I used to has also affected how my students see me.  Not to say that I’m perfect and never have a bad day or get frustrated in the classroom.  I am human.  If financial success has allowed me to grow into a better teacher, why didn’t it do the same for Caracas?Answer this question means that I have to allow myself to be open to a different perspective.

Well, perhaps the chef was not the usual chef.  Perhaps the owners are living a less stressful life by giving their chefs a bit of freedom to explore as artists.  Isn’t that what I want for my students?  I do give them way more freedom to make mistakes and yet, when this happens to me outside of the classroom, I hold in such harsh light.  When I attempt to put myself in the owners of Caracas’ shoes, I am able to see a valuable perspective.  It’s important to grow and this will bring success which allows us to create new art pieces whether it be culinary, teaching, musical, etc. Perhaps had I abandoned my need for nostalgia and opened myself to a few of the newer items on the menu, I may I found an arepa that touched my soul today instead of trying to relive my twenties.  Although the old will always be there, sometimes the new allows for a different perspective.

Watch the Bobby Flay Throwdown Below:
http://www.foodnetwork.com/videos/arepas-0110103.html

The Right Fit

2 Jul

Recently a friend of mine explained her daughter who is a toddler’s aversion to new clothes. She said that at first when attempting to slide into new clothes she cries at the top of her lungs and does this the entire time her mom, my friend, is clothing her in new outfit. After she’s done crying, she comes around and shows off her new outfit which is always received with positive acclaim and then she loves her new outfit and wants to wear it for days.

Simple interpretation of her tantrum: change is hard even at her age. One would think that as we get older we would be more inclined to roll with the punches so to speak– wear a new outfit for each stage of life. And yet, every time I have to slide into a new phase, crying and frustration and tantrums ensue.

As a teacher, one would think that I would be accustomed to wearing different hats. Each year I meet, build relationships with and say goodbye to hundreds of students. Each year there are several new initiatives that challenge me to do my job with same effectiveness while being pulled into the new. And yet, each time I end a school year, I feel exactly like little A–as if someone is trying to force me out of my favorite outfit and into a brand new one.

Last day of school at the end of my day, I walk down the oddly silent hallway usually over-filled with 7th graders running like squirrels up and down the hallways.  I suppress the urge to say: “Stay to your right.”  All the locker doors dressed in blue, stand open, bare.  Emptiness fills me.

The day I’ve been counting down to for the past two months has finally arrived in the most anti-climatic way.  No proper goodbyes to my classes as a whole, no waving vehemently as the buses drive out one last time escorted by our officer of law,  just bare silence.  I stand at my doorway looking at the overwhelming task of cleaning out, packing up, and moving out. I remember all the laughter worn by this empty room.  This was the room that helped me realize that teaching is the right fit for me.

I started this year different.  I chose to let go of my label as rebel, risk-taking teacher and conformed just a little.  What I didn’t realize is in the end it’s not the curriculum that makes this job worth it.  It’s not the content.  I could teach anything I want and yes as an artist it would make me just a little happier to wear experiential learning on my arm.  It’s actually about the relationships that I get to build with hundreds of little 7th graders.  They push me to be positive everyday; They imitate me everyday; They make me laugh daily.   I open myself up so that they feel safe, so that we can build trust and learn together.

Endings are tough and emotional and clean and messy.

Friday afternoon, I strolled into summer break wearing a bright orange sari.  The tight blouse fit each arm firmly holding my sadness.  The light breeze picked up the bottom pleats of the sari forcing them to balloon.  I looked down at my new outfit that got me a lot of positive attention that day and smiled.  I wish I could wear a sari everyday, but the reality and practicality of life forces me to choose a different outfit each day.  The truth is although I love my past outfits, the new ones make me happy too.

Release the Tangle

11 Jun
I wish I could let go of you
You with your crushing sarcasm
laughing at it all like it’s no big deal–
to treat me without respect.
 
I wish I let go of you
You with your crushing negativity
the kind that envelopes all whom you
contact
 
It’s true–I love and want to love you
for all that you are and all that you are not
It’s part of my nature to find it endearing
you endearing for all that you are and are not.
 
I wish I could
just
let
go
 
My brain may not be built that way on some days
It takes practice I guess to change the workings of it.
 
I look back at a year’s worth of
working on finding respect and love for you
I look back, yet it’s clear it doesn’t matter to you
It doesn’t matter that you were accepted and revered by me!
 
My intensity scares you,
I now know
My ability to be outrageously me, regardless of company
must seem completely ridiculous and annoying at times
I’ll admit it
 
It’s important that I let go, however
it is important for me to move forward
toward my truth and light
 
I may be no better than you
because I may feel the need to feel superior, too.
I may be no better
because I may feel the need to judge too
 
It all sits heavy on repeat, shuffled around
in my brain unable to unwind and straighten
but perhaps there’s beauty in the tangle
the desire to let go entwined with the need to work it out.
So I watch it, hold it, and slowly open my fingers to release the tangle…

June Blue

8 Jun
June Blue
June Green
June Kind
June June

I see you
you see me
and yet, we drag on
It's time
almost
to part ways 
with you

it echoes and echoes
the past 9 months
I hear it so loud
so loud, so loud--
even at night

the moments, those moments
of purity and truth

of paper yo-yos and laughter and groans and hyperboles
you ruled my days and weeks and months

June tired
June exhaustion
there's no cure
for you
June Bye's 
are filled with 
flashes--weighted 
so light and pure.

June green
June Yellow
June warm
June Blue

June June
June June
bye bye
dear June

No Distractions, Just Write

15 May

The bright green trees blurred as they passed my window. I could see them through my peripheral, guardians always there.  I placed my finger in the book as my temporary book marker to glance at them dwelling in the story, completely swept away into a world different, better, way more interesting than mine.  I was seven or eight years old–my first memory of completing a novel, a chapter book on my own.  I was on a train going from Hyderabad to somewhere.  We had found optimal seating and I, the youngest and smallest, had somehow ended up having enough space to spread out–a rarity in my youth, well I guess even in my adulthood.  We were on the train for more than a day because I remember waking the next day, still next to the glorious window.  This time watching rice fields blur by knowing that I still had my book close by ready to be read.  Finishing that novel was the first time I remember experiencing that fulfillment, that delicious satisfaction that fills your mind and heart after reading a really good book.  I also remember thinking, I can do this–read a book from the first page to the last.  I flipped through the already read pages several times relishing in the feeling of just that.

It’s a memory that doesn’t leave me even in my adult life.  I still ritualistically feather through a finished novel allowing its words in settle into my being.  So, today when I chose to take a day off to take care of me and the clouds joined me, I looked at the novel I started on Monday and decided on my plans–ignore the mountain of dishes downstairs, ignore all responsibilities such as grading final essays of the year, ignore picking up the debris of laundry all over the bedroom, ignore changing out of pajamas–spend the day reading.  Suddenly I am swept away, content.

Outside the clouds have gathered like a puzzle fitting exactly together.  The tall trees have grown big leaves in all shades of green–some dark, some bright, some luscious.  I clear my throat from all the allergy symptoms my body exhales just looking at the green.  It’s a perfect day.  I’m home alone with no official responsibility.  Free to spend my day as I please.  Five weeks away from having consecutive days that will allow me this new schedule.  I tell myself I’ll do the dishes in an hour.  I’ll clean in two.  I’ll run my errands in three and hit play to an old Tori Amos album and am transported forgetting all responsibility.

Little Earthquakes comes on and I remember the time that I wrote every day in college on the steps of McKeldin Library, in the green grass on the mall, in my car.  What happened to that writer?

I spend hundreds of hours teaching students how to be an artist and teaching them about discipline as young artists.  I remember earlier this year, we met with a student who said he wanted to be a NBA player to which a fellow teacher responded with:  if you want to do that, you better learn that working hard is going to part of your everyday routine.  It reminded me of when I used to identify myself as the “hard worker” in the family.  I used to think it to be lesser than, but the truth it is it is greater than.  Discipline takes hard work.  I remember how easy it was that day to finish my first book because we were on a train and there was no television, no phones, no iPod, no iPad, no gameboy to take my attention away from it.  Then I think back to college as an English major.  It took me much longer sometimes to finish a book because I was so distracted by walking around campus thinking, by going to the movies, by partying, by drawing and dancing and everything else.  I was so focused on everything.  My friends, even today, joke about how I want a piece of everything in life. I want to belong to it all.  It can leave a person completely fulfilled and completely empty.

Last Monday, I was complaining to a close friend about this very feeling of belonging to everything and belonging to nothing.  I confessed that I think even my blog is a distraction from my ultimate dream.  She prescribed me to begin my focus by watching the movie  Author’s Anonymous.  Then, gave me a list of ideas that have worked for her.  “I have made a time sheet for myself.  A writer’s time sheet where I clock-in hours of time spent writing to remind myself that I am a writer and that it is a priority in my life,” she said.  Being a hard-working student, I took her advice and watched the film that night.  While it was a funny take on a group of writers trying to make in LA, there was one theme that spoke to me the most. The main character says two lines that gave me reason to recommit to my novel.  She said first:  “No distractions, writing comes first.”  Then later she says to the male lead: “Henry, you are so focused on other things like your favorite writers and me.  I just write from my heart.”  [I paraphrase here for I don't have the film available to reference for the exact quote.]

It’s true I am Henry Obert.  I am so focused on living my life to it’s fullest sometimes that I lose focus on my dreams.  If you want to be a writer, then you have to do the work.  You have to write regularly.  Although, I love to write here on this blog, it is not my primary goal as a writer.  Although I love to dance and am good at it, it is not my primary goal either.  Although I love to teach and am good at it, it is not my primary goal.  All of these art forms are fulfilling and necessary but do not have to take over my life.

I can spend the time, the disciplined time, to write my novel.  It’s a matter of commitment and discipline and allowing for ebbs and flows in my identity as a writer.  There will be several days just like that day as a seven-year old on the train when I will have uninterrupted flow and write for days at a time motivated.  There will be days when I feel like watching movies and escaping.  I used to think that I couldn’t recover from those days, but I do.  I always do.

 

Check out an interview with the writer of Authors Anonymous!

 

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