Thursday, September 30, 2010

Comfort Levels

On Wednesday Amelia came home from school with an invitation to a birthday party. It was a fifth grade sleepover, and it was last minute because she was the "new girl" and the birthday girl finally convinced her mother to let her invite one more person. Amelia was very eager to go, so excited that someone had included her, that she had friends and a place to belong. I had very mixed feelings about it - what if the people are super trashy? What if the girl has a creepy older brother? What if there are guns/drugs/boa constrictors in the house? But I remember so clearly how it felt to be the one invited to a party, but whose parents wouldn't let her go. After enough times of that, I also remember how it felt to know that someone was having a party that I wasn't invited to. I remember how it was to be the girl with her nose in a book, "totally fine" to not have anyone looking for me to sit with them at lunch. I don't want my daughter to feel that, not if I can help it. When she has friendship troubles, which are inevitable, I can't come to school and show people how awesome she is, but I can make afterschool okay, like my mom did with me through tea-time and General Hospital. I can also make sure that she's always got Natalie and Avery to turn to. I can't slap the mean girl who makes the cruel comment about her hair or her clothes, but I can make sure that she's got a dance class to go to in a different town where she's successful and skilled, and has 9 friends who have no idea what her "school life" is like at any given time. She can just be...herself.

So, I talked the party over with Patrick, and we said yes. I called the mom, who told me that she's a teacher, too, which means that at the very least she's CORI checked and free of tuberculosis. I thought about how we have raised our child to be confident and resilient, to listen to her moral compass and her built-in sense of intuition to know when a situation is okay. There comes a time when you have to have faith in the person she is, as well as the job you've done as a parent, and wave goodbye through the car windows. I had lessons in that this summer, as you know. We decided to have faith in her, and in us, and let her go.

I had a long day at school yesterday, then rehearsal, which I left a bit early to go to the Loring Theater in Hingham to see Cairo Time. The movie was *eh* but the experience of being there, in an old-timey theater with a balcony and creaky stairs, in a place so familiar and integral to the my little life chronicles was a little hug around the neck. It was a great big deep breath. It was...insert another mixed metaphor for "comforting" here.

I came home last night to Amelia padding downstairs, red-eyed, asking if she could talk to me. I sat down on her bed with her, where she sobbingly confessed that she didn't want to sleep over. She just...didn't, and what should she do? It was one of those Mom-moments that I knew was going to matter later. I knew that what I said then, and how she came to experience herself in this moment was going to be remembered later. And it was one of those moments where I thought...huh. I actually know what to do with this. I totally got this one. I remember what Christianna said about Acceptable Levels of Truth, and how it could be applied to this situation.

I remember my dad saying to me, "I will always be your best excuse. If you don't want to do something, you can always say I won't let you." I remember appreciating that advice. (Unfortunately, he actually DIDN'T let me do most of the things I wanted to do, but that's a whole different story.) Anyway, I remember feeling comforted by that, and that's what I told her. "I will always do what I can to help you follow your truth. If you truly do not want to go to this party for whatever reason, I will help you not to go, while not having to be embarrassed in front of your new friends." While there's a part of me that doesn't want to advocate lying, there's a part of me that knows that when you're ten years old, and you have no freaking clue how to get along with brand new people, and you can't throw a baseball and your body is smelly and your hair drives you crazy and you still sleep with a stuffed animal, the least you can hope for is not to get teased for failing to attend a sleepover party. And while I know it won't last, right this minute, I can still fix it for her. For just this little while longer, I can get her out of a tricky situation.

"Sweetie, I will call the mom, and tell her that you are training for a big dance competition -which is true - and that you have a double class the next morning - which is true - and that I am worried about you not having enough sleep - which I am not, but which I can totally start to do, so then THAT will be true, too." She will go to the birthday party part, and sing happy birthday and bring a kick-ass present and do the craft and paint her nails and whatever else they do at 5th grade parties, and then, when the girls are getting into pajamas, I will go pick her up. She'll call me, and I will be at the door in five minutes. And when the party pictures get developed, Amelia will still be in them, and all that will be remembered by those girls months from now is that she was there, she was a part of it.

But hopefully, Amelia will remember that no matter what the situation, she will never have to be alone. If she speaks up, she can always find support from her parents and ideas on how to creatively solve a problem, no matter how tangly. And five years from now, when she's at a party where things are out of control, she'll remember she can call me and I will get there as fast as I can. And if someone is pressuring her to do something, and she's not sure how to get out of it, she can play the My Mother is Strict/Neurotic/Mean/Psychic/Very-Good-at-Spying Card to get her out safely, while still figuring out how to save face in the Piranha Pool of high school.

There's a line, I think, between maintaining your authentic self, and Adolescent Public School Survival. I didn't manage it too well myself, but in hindsight, I know what I could have, and should have done differently. If those spiral notebooks in the closet are good for anything, they're good for that. My daughters might not internalize those lessons, and they will come up against things I've never had to face, but at least I have something to go on.

I am so proud of her for wanting to go to that party. I am so proud of her for putting herself out there to make new friends, and for being willing to take such a risk as to go to a strange party with girls she doesn't really know very well. But I'm even more proud of her for speaking up about her fears of going, for knowing that she was beyond her already admirable extension of her comfort level to a place that felt wrong. And I'm proud of her for asking for help, and for trusting that Patrick and I would listen with kindness, and make it better.

I feel half the time like I'm wandering blind through this whole motherhood thing. But then there are moments when I know that at the very least, I'm doing the best I know how, taking advice from people I respect and trying to lead with love. I feel so lucky to have two such beautiful souls to mother, and that I won such an amazing man to be their dad.

And if it's selfish of me to be relieved that both of those little souls will be snug in their own beds tonight, under their covers, cozy with goodnight kisses and stuffed animals in their arms...well, I can live with that.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Beauty of the Beast

Today is the one year anniversary of Matt's death. I'm sitting in the auditorium as I write this, remembering so vividly the awe he inspired in me, in all of us, really. I do believe that what comes next when we leave this world is all goodness and love, so I am not wallowing in sadness. At least not for him...the sadness is for his loved ones, his tribe, who today miss their friend. Matt was the greatest lesson I have yet had in the importance of making each day count, and of the transformative power of theater. I am ever grateful to have known him and learned from his courage, joy, and heart-light.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Happy Thoughts

I am feeling oddly cheerful and buoyant today. I haven't felt this way in a long time. I just realized that I have less I have to do this weekend than I have in weeks, and that this weekend I will actually be able to find and unpack my leather boots and cozy sweaters in time for Apple Picking with my mom on Sunday. (I was hoping to have time to buy an orchard-strolling hat, like that lady in the Target commercial, but hey, you can't have everything.) I got a piece of happy news this week about an upcoming project, so I have something kind of quietly shiny in my soul to think about and look forward to. I had lots of child-care help from Andrea this week which made me feel secure and supported. I was able to help out a friend that I love, making me feel secure and supportive. I have a date with a friend to see my favorite blogging-mama speak, and I made hotel reservations for the wedding of year, lakeside on a crisp autumn day at which, among the many joyful things about this event, I'll get to see both Craig and Elise, so multiple blessings there. I got to eat take-out and watch Glee with Patrick even though the party fell through, and I'm reading a really good book.

Even though it's Crazy Time, today is just feeling like a really good day.

I have Open House tonight, which I don't really enjoy, but my secret teacher-confessional is that it's always a fun time to see which kids have hot dads. Don't judge me. You'd totally do it to, if you were me.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mutual Animosity Society

You’d think, being an educated woman of the modern age, that I would embrace technology in all its forms. You’d think, being creatively minded and professionally curious, that I would ply technology’s riches for all that it can do to enhance my teaching, bringing the Stone Age or ancient Egypt to vibrant life under my students’ fingertips. You’d think that as a teacher with a reputation for excellence that I would celebrate the ability to use power-points and Smart Boards and spreadsheets to organize the many lists of kids I have to connect with year to year. You’d think that I would enthusiastically create video clips and special effects to raise the level of professionalism of my many theatrical productions, like the directors that I admire do so well.

You’d think.

The truth is, I HATE technology. I am afraid of it, and it knows. It taunts me, failing invariably when I need it most. I plan a spectacular lesson in the computer lab for students to explore the cave paintings at Lascaux, and the internet is down in my building which of course I don’t know until I’ve done the energetically theatrical introduction and said, with as much affect as I can muster, “And now, my darlings, we travel back and back to the dawn of civilization…ready…GO!” Dead air. Or, even if the internet IS working, what do I inevitably hear? “Mrs. Browne, my flash player isn’t installed.” “It says I’m being redirected…” “Why is the text all in French?”

I don’t even have an iPod, because I am afraid of them.

Even my printer, which I frequently call a Filthy Dirty Whore, only works for Patrick, who insists that it hears me say those things, and that’s why it quits me. Always when I have something I NEED RIGHT NOW, it taunts me, sputtering and clicking insolently, until Patrick just smiles and pets it, and then it’s fine. And it makes me bitter.

I refuse to choose shows that have any kind of required technological component, because they can and do fail, and because if they are not working, I have no ability to fix them. Anything else that goes wrong in a show, I can handle myself. I can stitch a hem on a gown if I have to, build a bench, paint a flat, collect a prop from a sketchy Walmart at midnight, but if it involves technology, forget it. Thoroughly Modern Millie, which I directed last fall, requires Chinese translation to be projected. Absolute plot necessity. I almost didn’t chose the show because of it, but choose it we did, and if you’ve been reading this for a while, you might recall my panic about that during dress rehearsal last November. (If I had a single ounce of technological savvy, I would be able to link last year’s blog entry right here so you could look back and read it. But I DON’T FREAKING KNOW HOW TO DO THAT.) And of course, because the buck stops with me, I ended up having to actually RUN the powerpoint during the show, timed exactly right to the dialogue, and all I can actually remember from those performances is my shaking finger over the space bar, my heart thumping, praying to Dionysus and Angel Matt to have pity on me, guide me, not let me ruin the show that I had worked so hard on for three months.

We were supposed to have a big Glee premiere cast party tonight, pizza and social time, and the internet/cable/goddess of tubes and wires has failed. Lightning strike, conductor something-or-other. Whatever. Doesn’t matter. What matters is that I got everyone all pepped up, gleeful for Glee, went to everyone I needed to for permission, ordered bunches of pizza, and now have to cancel the whole thing, embarrassed and frustrated.

I hate technology ‘cause technology utterly hates me.

Monday, September 20, 2010


Two small things, and then a related story. First, I got an email from Company this morning with a link to a youtube video of the show Gloryland that we did back in 2000. The opening number was “America, the Dream Goes On.” Even watching it now, a decade later, I can see how incredibly stirring it was, and remember how thrilling and satisfying it felt to sing a delicious second soprano line choral with a perfectly directed ensemble. Still one of my favorite things to do in the world, and I know I’m getting close to the point where I need to be in the chorus of some Company show or die. I’ve been increasingly feeling a sort of desperation for it that cannot be denied. Vampire-thirsty.

Second, in the car yesterday, my daughter asked me if I could rent a smoke machine for the backyard musical they are preparing for Halloween with the completely wide-eyed, startled 8-year-old across the street and her equally somewhat-alarmed 4-year-old sister. Since we moved there in May, they still don’t seem to know quite what to make of their new neighbors who regularly knock at their door decked in sequins and feathers, carrying a radio. I said no to the smoke machine.

So, I’m working on Guys and Dolls (yes, again) at my fancy high school. I have many associations with this show, a long and twisted history frought with drama and stress. Why do I keep doing this show so often if it’s kicked my butt repeatedly? Well, sometimes, it’s the perfect show for the group I have. This is one of those times. My cast is perfect, my mission band is full of my beloved senior girls who seem relatively cheery about it, the staff is getting along well so far, and we’re off to a good start.

I had the worst single case ever of disgruntled I/My Precious Daughter Deserved the Lead madness that I have ever experienced, and hope never to encounter either party ever again. Anywhere. Utterly cruel and destructive, and full of the worst kind of petty smallness. My friend Ellie always reminds me to ask, “What is the gift in that?” whenever things are going badly…and the gift in this is twofold. One, it reminds me yet again how lucky I am to work with so many incredibly smart, compassionate, talented teenagers who are kind and mature, and two, that karma is a red-hot bitch-slapping Mama, because this kind of behavior will reap what it sows. I think, too, that there were lessons that needed to be learned somehow for the girl who got the part, and got the flack for it, so a milestone was reached on her journey.

We had our first group rehearsal yesterday, intentionally choosing the complicated “Runyonland” tapestry of an opening number, because it built in wait-time, and would give the kids a chance to socialize in this new grouping, get to know their cast-mates, and gain an understanding that rehearsals, no matter how meticulously organized, have down time. My choreographer was hard at work with the kids, so I mostly drifted about the groups, or ran the CD for her as needed.

I watched one small group closely. Freshman and sophomore girls, scrolling together through one’s iphone music list. It was clearly full of showtunes, and I could hear them chatting about Wicked and Gypsy and Spring Awakenings and singing quietly to an obscure Kristen Chenoweth song called “Taylor the Latte Boy,” to which all four of them knew all the words. I thought back to who I was in high school - I was those girls, head full of showtunes, lyrics constantly playing in my head, or scribbled on notebook pages. I lived for rehearsal times, for whatever the show was, and I have very few memories of high school that do not take place in the auditorium or in the choir room. And in fact, of my classroom memories, nearly all of them are bad ones.

The difference, though, between myself and these girls was that I was me, alone, and they have each other. Oh, I had Lisa and Chris in high school, and truly felt that they were the only friends I needed. But they both were involved in sports and had actual lives beyond theater, and far beyond me. And I was never pals with anyone in the shows other than them, and never knew anyone else who knew all the words to Trouble in River City or Just You Wait ‘Enry ‘Iggins, or to be impressed by the fact that I did. I kept my theater geek Freak Flag safely in my journal until I got to college and then let it fly, unabashed and celebratory, part of a community. Here’s my hat, fellas…I’m staying where I’m at, fellas…

I love knowing that whatever else I’m doing in my life, I’m year to year providing community space to the musically disenfranchised and socially awkward too-loud girls in this corner of the world. Tomorrow night, we're having a cast party to watch the Glee premiere, yet another way to remind them that they are not alone. So while I’m already feeling significantly frayed around the edges in this tiring season of my life, I can clearly look out at swaying sophomores singing “Seasons of Love” and think, yeah…there’s the gift in that.

And, if I should give in about the smoke machine, I totally know like three places to get one.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Dear Teacher

On the first day of school, I write a long letter to the kids about some things they'll learn, and some things about me and what I like to do. I ask them questions about their lives and their interests, and their only homework on the first day is to write me a letter back. It's a great way to get a sense of their writing voices, and to find out whose parents do their homework for them.

Here are some gem lines from letters I got this morning. They are all exact quotes - I have not altered a thing.

"Now I want to tell you all about me. I love pasta and salsa. It makes my tongue tingle like my tastebuds are dancing. Your friend, Isabella."

"My favorite shows are Flashpoint and Big Brother. I used to love Knight Rider 2008, but it got cancelled for reasons I do not understand."

"Though Greece and Egypt seem to be interesting topics indeed, I find it difficult to talk about curriculum from the relaxing comfort of my home. I instead will take the opportunity you gave me to tell you about myself."

"I am in a band called Stones of Gold. But we've never even had a rehearsal so I don't think that's going to work."

"I have two gerbils named Lewis and Clark. It was kind of stupid to name them after explorers because they never leave their cage, but I like history so that's why I did it."

"Mrs. Browne I'm really not sure what to right so I will tell you that my favorite food is cheese and I have two annoying sisters named Abby and Katie. Have a nice night."

"I love to eat chocolate, whoopie pies, pies, ice cream, chips, chocolate chips, and cake."

"Some things I like are swimming, soccer, watermelon and lacrosse."

"One day my parents got a letter! It said your daughter has led poisoning! Then my parents asked my grandparents what kind of paint they used in the house! It was my great grammys and back then they used paint with led in it! Led paint can give elderlys and small children led poisoning! That day we moved!"

And my favorite, from an awesome cracker-jack kid who emerged as a leader in the first five minutes of school:

"I own over 12 globes, 20 atlases and least 100 small maps around the house. I also have 20 books on various civilizations and ancient cultures. I do like video games but I play games like Total War and not Call of Duty. Total war has about 10 different games, and they follow groups like the Romans and Napolion and others. You pick your groups like the Franks or the Saxons and move your troops on each campaign. So you are not rotting your brain with zombies or guns but learning. I don't play video games all the time. I mostly play in the house with legos or in the backyard with myself."

I fully intent to use this against him when he runs for President.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

One Ten-Year-Old at a Time

I begin another school year in just two days, and somehow, I'm not feeling it. This is my 15th year as a teacher, I recently figured out, and every single time, that first day flutter kicks in. Somehow, though, I'm not there yet.

For my first year, I was in my classroom for weeks beforehand, pouring over how-to books, making sure everything was just so. Now, I go on for one day. Really, one half of a day. Put up bulletin boards, copy my first day stuff, set up desks, adjust the schedule, and then when the actual First Day comes, my concentration is on getting my own girls ready, psyching them up, taking the pictures on the stoop and feeling all the day that a part of my spirit hovers with them, patting them when they need it, offering a wink and a smile when their nerves hit. Before my daughters, my focus was only on the students.

So, in the spirit of finding my way back to then, I'm sharing a piece I wrote for a contest about my first year teaching. It was my response to the prompt, "When did you first know you were a grown up?" I didn't win, but I will always be glad that I tried it. I'm pretty sure I never published it here before, but in case I'm old and forgetful, and you've already read it, go read the newspaper or something instead.

One Ten Year Old at a Time

“I have confidence in sunshine, I have confidence in rain…” A firm believer in the My-Life-A-Broadway-Musical approach to romance, adventure, and all of life’s challenges, I had belted fortifying songs throughout the weeks spent preparing for my first Real Job. I had been training and studying for years, had envisioned this opportunity with such hope and enthusiasm, and here it was. I was a teacher at last. My very first class – fifth grade in a tiny neighborhood school in Plymouth, Massachusetts. I assembled perky bulletin boards designed to encourage and uplift, wrote names in careful script in rank books and spelling charts, imprinting these small souls on mine before I had even seen their faces.

Marbled journals were waiting on every desk, and everyone had a sharpened pencil ready. Math workbooks assigned? Check. First day puzzles pieces cut out and labeled? Check. Nametags? My new colleagues wandered in during these preparation days to welcome me and wish me well, and to offer advice and encouragement. They walked around my cooperative-learning style desk groupings, eyeing the nametags and sharing the wisdom of their experience with my new students, the ones they had already taught in first through fourth grades. “Oh, that one never shuts up. He wants to be the class clown. Don’t let him.” Eyes scanned over the desks. “This one is bossy. She’s going to tell you what to do all the time.” “This one doesn’t do homework.” “No motivation.” “Very bumbling. Don’t leave anything breakable on your desk or it won’t be there in June.” I smiled and nodded politely as they rambled, and recited the list of Multiple Intelligences in my mind to tune them out. I knew I had to make my own decisions, and I wanted to discover who they were all on my own.

It wasn’t until I was halfway to work on that sunny, Macintosh-and-Ticonderoga scented first day that I realized a terrifying fact…I had never seen a first day of school from a teacher’s perspective. All of my student teaching experiences had occurred after the first day of school, and though I knew the logistics of what I was supposed to do…I actually had no idea, in practice, what to expect. Terrifying analogies began to run through my head…Would a pilot fly a plane without ever having seen it leave the runway? Would a surgeon operate without ever having seen that first incision made? Panic fluttered. Fifth graders are going to eat me alive, I was suddenly certain, and there is no showtune for this!

My stomach’s butterflies turned to helicopters as I walked into my expectant, empty classroom on that first September morning. Breathing deeply, I became determined to be the voice of authority, to be fortified by my student teaching experiences and never let on that I was anything but perfectly ready to lead these emergent adolescents through the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, persuasive essay writing, the scientific method, the American Revolution, and dividing fractions. I would show no flicker of weakness. I would be strong. I would be In Charge.

That mindset would not last. In that first week I learned the stories, and personalities that came along with those carefully penned names, and realized that I was in way over my head. I was given one student with severe special needs, who came with an aide that I had no idea what to do with. I completely forgot to take them to lunch one day and they were too polite to tell me. I made a wreck of my plan-book and every lesson took twice as long as it should have. I pulled the handle right off the only ancient mimeo machine, making me the Most Hated Teacher in School for four entire days. I blew a fuse by using both the microwave and the toaster in the teacher’s room while the copier was running, plunging half the school into darkness. I made a boy cry when I asked him about his mother…whom I didn’t know had died two years before…and I could not seem to keep straight the names of the Spanish Explorers I expected the kids to memorize, confusing all of us repeatedly. The harder I clung to In Charge, the more the Universe laughed and threw obstacles in my way. I was beginning to feel that I should have been a plumber instead and the only showtunes I could seem to draw from were those of the starving French peasants in Les Miserables. Things were definitely falling apart.

My breakthrough came during a particularly troubling math lesson. I had lost my way halfway through demonstrating a problem on the board. Puzzled glances and hands in the air soon gave way to muttering amongst the kids. I grew more and more frustrated at my inability to solve the problem as well as my terrifying sense that I was losing control of them, just as I knew I would all along. A timid voice rang out, “I think I know how to fix it.” Biting back the humiliated tears threatening to jump out of my eyes, I handed over the chalk and walked to the back of the room. This small, shy fairy-child erased two bits of the problem, and talked the whole class through solving it correctly. The kids nodded, light-bulbs flickered in their eyes, and one student turned to me and said, “See, Ms. Hines? We got it. It’s okay.” Their encouraging, sympathetic smiles did me in. I stopped the lesson midstream and sat them all on the rug, and I simply told them the truth. “I’ve wanted to be a teacher all my life, and I feel so grateful for this job, but sometimes…I don’t know just what I’m doing. I’m trying really hard, and I want to be the best I can, but I need your help. I need advice.” Their advice? Relax. Be yourself. Don’t worry so much. We already like you, so trust us. We’ll show you how.

In a million small moments of trust and connection, we slowly began to build a community together. I asked about their families, their dreams, their passions, and they asked about mine. And I told them. We talked together about current events, their fears about transitioning to middle school, the complications of friendship and how much things had changed from when they were “little.” And I listened hard. When I wasn’t sure the best way to deliver a particular Social Studies concept or help them prepare for a vocabulary test, I asked them, and I implemented their ideas for how to teach them best. We put on a fabulous production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, surprising the naysayers who insisted that fifth graders Can’t Do Shakespeare. We learned all the songs from Oliver! and Schoolhouse Rock. I took them all to Boston to see Donny Osmond in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and even my most reluctant theater-goers loved it. We read and we painted and danced and wrote…and we laughed. We laughed at them, and we laughed at me, and we all loved coming to school every single day.

In the fifteen years of teaching that have followed this first one, I have only grown in my appreciation of special these people were. Many of my teaching years are full of kids who come with more baggage than I can help lift, or more defenses that I am able to penetrate, but I have held fast to the lessons I learned that first year about creating a safe haven for students and teacher alike. I keep working to foster trust, because an inspirational bunch taught me how.

The Class Clown is soon to end his Navy tour of duty; I’ll attend his wedding this spring. The Bossy One leads her own fourth grade classroom. Midsummer's Oberon is now a professional actor. The one without motivation is finishing her law school degree, and the clumsy Bumbler is now a successful stand-up comedian. (And yes, he did break my favorite coffee mug.) I was hired to be their teacher, and in every way, they taught me. They taught me to be myself, finally. They taught me that opening my heart is a sign of strength, not weakness, and that I should always listen more than I talk. In doing so, they made me a teacher. In doing so, they have allowed me to teach thousands more these very same lessons. Because of what I learned from them, I now annually create a classroom where differences are celebrated, freak flags proudly fly, and truths are discovered and boldly spoken. I know I’m not rescuing people from burning buildings and I’m not curing cancer, but in my own small way, I’m changing the world, one ten-year-old at a time. And my first ten-year-olds taught me how. I grew up before their very eyes, just as they grew up before mine.

Friday, September 3, 2010


There are a lot of reasons I haven't written lately. For one, I've been hibernating. A hermit. I felt the need to shut the world out just a little bit. For just a little while. I journaled during that, so I know I'm alright. I just needed to build a little chrysalis.

For another, since I've been re-emerging all new to the world, butterfly-like, I have been very jangly and sensitive. Squinting in the light, like coming out of the movies at three in the afternoon.

Third, a lot of what's been happening lately has been very personal, and if I couldn't write about that, then I couldn't write about anything, because it would feel too phony.

I learned that. I learned - and was lately reminded - that if I am not in a place of authenticity with myself, then I can't write at all. We all have our fatal flaws; mine is, I think, a tendency to kid myself about things. I decide I can deal with a situation, or choose not to deal with it, or not see the truth of something by convincing my perceptions to bend to my will. I suppose everyone does that, but I do it readily. Eventually, though, the truth will out, and I will figure out how I truly, deeply feel about something, and how I'll do it will be to write my way through it. So, I have done that. I have written myself straight on through to the other side, and I'm very nearly ready to take a step into this new phase. (Nearly ready - one good afternoon with the tribe ought to clinch it, I think.)

This fall will be the beginning of many new things for me. For my family. I know this. It is the middle of a cycle that began when I sold my house last fall. I sold my house, and then I moved my family and tried to take care of them durning a terrible winter of discontent, and I wrote a play. I finished a school year and I got my house of dreams and I went to New York City had an August of Renewal. That Augus was the eye of the storm. Now I have the other side of this cyclone to work through, and I will be Dorothy sitting on her bed, pointing out the window, noticing whatever comes past. And then my house will land, and we'll sing a song about it, I'll get a pair of fabulous new shoes, and another phase of my journey will begin.

I have a lot more to say - about what I learned this summer. I wrote in June about that. I was asked, "What will you learn this summer, Kelly?" And I learned a lot.

For now, though, I am enjoying a chance to reconnect to this. I'm watching the finale of Pillars of the Earth again, and I am tossing out a question. Is there anything out there that will help me to connect to other periods of history the way this novel connected me to the 1200's? I had never been able to conceive of this time without this novel. Shakespeare in Love did it for the 1500's, and reading Gone With the Wind did it for the Civil War. (Not the movie - that felt like the 1930's. I kept picturing the actors climging into their Rolls Royces after their shooting day, fur stoles around their collars.) I have to teach Egypt and Greece and early man, and I have no passion for it. No connection. And I find it hard to do anything in my life without passion.

So, does anyone know any novels or movies that can help me? I need something transporting and inspiring, not for the kids to read, but for me to read to help me bring it to life.

Thanks. See you real soon.