Sunday, January 22, 2017

The ultimate selfie

Anyone who’s been a teacher for a while will tell you that wherever they go, they see someone they know.  For years I’ve run into former students and it’s great to catch up on where life has taken them in the years since they were in my classroom.  Last weekend, I saw one of my current yoga students, a lovely young girl I’ve known since Gina was a newborn and her brother was a preschool student in one of my yoga classes.  Now a teenager, she’s a bubbly, vivacious, and endearing young woman who brings so much life to our Saturday practice.  There's much about Gina that's a reflection of my teenage self, and I marveled at how time and grace has recreated the person I was back then into the woman I am today. 
I grew up in south Toledo, my neighborhood tucked into a little cul-de-sac that merged with the property of a local private school.  In the winter, my friends and I went sledding down Dead Man’s Hill, a treacherous slope at the rear of Maumee Valley’s acreage.  In the summer, we played endless tennis matches on their courts at twilight.  I can recall a chilly Saturday morning during my Senior year when I sat in one of the classrooms, taking my SAT’s.  Decades later I returned as a visiting instructor during Winterim and as an after-school yoga instructor for the lower elementary.  
In early January, I had the unique opportunity to return to Maumee Valley as a guest speaker for seventh and eighth grade writing students.  Their teacher is the parent of one of my former Yoga Kids, and I looked forward to sharing my experiences in writing and self-publishing. 
When I walked into the school, Eimile smiled, “One of my students knows you.”
“Really?  Which one?” I asked.
Anna Baldwin* she replied.  “You used to teach her yoga.”
“Right!” I nodded.  “She was in my kindergarten class when I taught at West Side for a year.”
“There’s only one boy in the group,” Eimile said as we walked to her classroom.  “He’s really bright and creative.”
“That’s cool,” I smiled, recalling how interesting it was  to learn about personal stamina when I was the only girl in a speech class filled with rowdy football players.
Moments later as the students filed in, Anna gave me a big hug.  “It’s so great to see you again!” I beamed. 
“When Mrs. Green told us you were coming in, I didn’t recognize your name,” Anna admitted.  “But once I Googled a TV interview you did in 2015, I recognized you right away!”
“You remember me as Yoga Katie, not Kate, right?” I asked.
“Right,” she chuckled.
We chatted a bit longer and I instantly remembered the sweet, sometimes moody little one Anna used to be.  Funny, articulate, and always lovable, Anna was also occasionally stoic when upset about something, and it was difficult to coax her to speak so we could work through it.  Still, Anna taught me that some children simply need more time to process their feelings, and that given space and quiet support, they will come full circle on their own.
Although I plan an overview of what I’m going to say, I never have an agenda when I do presentations, especially with young people.  So, once Eimile introduced me, I asked the class what they wanted to gain from our time together. Looking around the class, I paused and studied the only boy for moment, realizing that I knew him as well.
“Did you go to West Side?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he smiled.
“Do you have a brother named Jacob?”
He nodded.
“Oh!  I know who you are!” I laughed.  “You left the year before I came to teach, but I had your little brother in my class…and I taught your dad yoga at his workplace and later at my home center.  Remind me of your name.”
“David,” he replied.
“You used to come visit Jacob when your elementary school had the day off,” I smiled.
Then I glanced at another student, a darling girl with short, curly brown hair.  “I’m Rachel and you were my kindergarten teacher, too,” she laughed.  “I had long hair back then.”
I nodded, thinking, My kids may grow and change over the years, but I always recognize them by their eyes.
As I talked about the writing process and my long journey into self-publishing, I mentioned that in a Kardashian world, it’s often hard to find quality work.   Later on, during the Q & A portion of the class, David asked, “Can you tell us more about what you meant by that?”
“Sure,” I said, my own face now stoic.  “We live in a culture that celebrates flash and bang, that looks for what’s easy and easily accessible, what’s instant entertainment.  Look at social media for example.  Most people are more interested in how many ‘likes’ they get on a selfie they post online than taking a good, hard look in the mirror and dealing with themselves.
“Each one of you here is going through something right now.  It might be that you were late to school or dealing with the death of a loved one.  Maybe your parents are splitting up or you just moved to Toledo and have trouble making friends.  Maybe it’s as simple as being tired or grumpy or whatever.  It doesn’t matter, because as writers, you’ll use language to move yourself through it.  You’ll use writing as a tool to really see yourself, to see others, to weave together stories and images that bring to life your own journey.  There’s no competition here for every one of you has a distinct voice and you can help each other find it.”
“How did you find yours?” a student asked.
“I went through some really difficult things when I was younger,” I replied, nodding out the window toward the snow-covered hills.  “In fact, my childhood home is right behind your school and I used to come here to hike and sled when I was little.  I spent a lot of time outside, thinking about what was happening to me, and then, when I was your age, I started to write in a journal.  Forty years later, I still do.”
“Is there a character you’ve written that you can’t stand?” a girl asked.
“Oh, yes…plenty,” I laughed.  “But when I wrote A TAPESTRY OF TRUTH, I learned that I can truly dislike a character and still have compassion for her…kind of like the way I feel about those parts of myself that I think are less-than-desirable.”
“If you could spend time with one of your characters, which one would it be and what would you do?” another student asked.
Surprisingly, tears instantly sprang to my eyes.  “I’d choose Sapphire, one of the main characters from THE LACE MAKERS.  I’d just play with her because she’s sweet and funny and a bit naughty.  But really, each character and each book embody pieces of who I was, who I am, or who I want to become.”
As I was leaving, Anna gave me a hug.  “I’d like to connect with you about writing."
“I’d love that,” I smiled, hopeful that the creative process could give Anna a voice to express all the things she might not be able to say aloud, but can clearly articulate through storytelling.  

As for me, I’ve not been writing much this winter.  To be honest, sometimes I miss it, sometimes I don’t.  I’ve waited what seems like forever to meet the love of my life, and now that he’s here, I can’t spend enough time listening to his stories, telling him mine.  Pretty soon we’re going on a retreat and I’m sure he and I will be able to fill up three days with sparkling conversation, if not more than a few lively games of Parcheesi.
My beloved sometimes teases me after long coffee dates with my girlfriends, “Is your jaw sore by now, Kate?”
“You should talk,” I shoot back, laughing.  “Well, you DO…don’t you?  I swear, if the transcripts of our conversations were available, you’d often have the lion’s share.”
But I don’t mind at all. 
Now, instead of examining my life and writing about it, I’m living more fully with someone who always makes me laugh.  Someone who encourages me to ponder things and unwittingly, yet endearingly feel a host of emotions (often simultaneously).  Someone who teaches me infinite languages of love.
Through him, I see myself more fully…and not just because we’ve discovered over the past few months that we both like chewing Mentos gum, using rosemary-mint shampoo as shower gel, and washing dishes in exactly the same anal-retentive way.  Through the fire of discovery, I recognize that we’re both intense and quirky, serious and silly, artistic and intuitive.  It manifests in different ways and we sometimes need to clarify our intentions, but in the end, it’s all good…for both of us.
Recently I told my beloved that by being with him I’m learning how to be an active listener, how to be more patient and accepting.  I’m learning how to love someone with my presence, with my purpose, with my promise to always be honest and truthful.  I’m learning that loving someone has layers, and that most of mine have been peeled away, revealing parts of me that only he gets to witness.  
For me that’s the ultimate selfie…to look in his eyes and see not only a man I love more each day, but also a reflection of the many facets of myself that I’ve yet to discover.  Maybe someday I'll write about it, but for right now, I'm content to just let it be what it is...this wonderfully incredible journey into enchanted love.

*Names have been changed.