341/365

Did I just have the best day? It’s possible. Day 341 of 365. Way to sneak it in before the buzzer, 2017!

On Thursdays I teach mostly 7th grade classes plus one section of 8th grade. The odds are already stacked in favor of Thursdays. The 7th grade classes and I explored poetry styles relating to human connections with nature. In first period, as we were taking notes on the theme of beauty as shown in Pablo Neruda’s “Ode to Enchanted Light,” a student asked, “Ms. Harmon, do you care about us?” Without thinking of any other possible response, I answered, “I love you guys; of course I care.” (Unfortunately, the student’s reply was, “Oh, because if you cared you wouldn’t be making us take notes…”) Even so, my sentiment was genuine and I’m happy I got an organic occasion to share the information with them. Even if they’re artistically-unappreciative punks, lol.

The classes today flew past. Even my period of 8th graders only bore witness to me shouting over their symphony of voices, like, twice. I dramatically crushed a timer that was habitually unreliable, much to their blood-lusty delight. They accomplished an appreciable amount of the lesson and even scored a class average of 90% on a quiz about The Drummer Boy of Shiloh. Who are these goons?!

I had so few behavioral concerns and finished today’s planning so quickly that I was able to leave work before 4. I raced home, threw the dog and some layers into the truck, and made it out to the conservation easement bordering JTNP 15 minutes before sundown. Scout and I pedaled out way up a fire road to a windy campsite overlooking the Morongo Basin to the north and the gateway to JT on the south. The strong wind enveloped us in the scent of desert flora (a welcome change from the odor of dust that usually lingers on the tongue). The sky faded through its evening watercolors as we raced back down the road. I swooped down the double track with Scout in the lead following the opposite lines in a graceful dance we’ve choreographed over many rides and near misses.

I was home and settling onto the couch in my pajama pants by 5:30. “What should we do now, Scout?” I asked my shadow. I hadn’t been home and without to-do list at this hour in many evenings. My phone rang. A coworker stated she was at the Inn having dinner and a drink if I was interested in joining. I liked that she didn’t pose it as a question. “Sorry, Scout!” I crowed as I slid back into my pants and threw a fleece over my shirt, slipping out the door. At a small table against the wall, Caileen and I shared a side salad, glasses of the house red, and the most enriching conversation. We laughed so hard we cried. We made plans for future rides and trips to Big Bear. We ordered desserts of chocolate mousse and vanilla ice cream, and enjoyed them by the heaping spoonful as the live musician played “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from the corner. Nearing 7, we hugged in the parking lot and sped off in our differing directions. I was home in my pajamas with Scout by 7:10.

This day is what I imagined adulthood could be like. I feel many things always but today I felt new things. I felt competent, and I felt professional. I felt confident, and I felt independent. I felt energized and rejuvenated. I felt relaxed. I felt like who I want to someday be. I felt how I hope more often to feel.

I feel like I’ve just had the best day.

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Taylor Forever

Taylor Swift’s career has spanned much of my conscious years. I remember listening to her first album during high school, on the cd player in my Beetle or connected through the tape deck adaptor in my friend’s Mustang. We would play Tim McGraw as we sat on her boyfriend’s truck’s tailgate outside Wendy’s or in the gym parking lot. During Taylor’s “Fearless” years, I was in college. I saw her in concert when she opened for Brad Paisley and waited in the summer evening breeze to get her signature. “Speak Now” and “Red” arrived during those years as well. Her style shifted just enough between each album to continue to match with uncanny accuracy the rhythms my own life was setting. We took a break from each other. When our ways met again, “1989” was cresting in the pop charts and the narratives included in her tracks again matched the experiences and moods of my mid 20’s. And now, now she’s graced our ears with “Reputation.” Reputation is exactly what I needed to hear from her at this stage in my life.

I have long since walked away from country music, from love stories, from sweethearts, from pickup trucks and red dirt roads. So too has she.

I bought Reputation at a Target in Fresno as I drove my way up the state over the holidays. I listened to the album ceaselessly for the remainder of my time in the car for the following 7 days. As such, I feel quite qualified expressing my expert opinions and observations about the material. Buckle up.

Taylor is a lyrical genius but in addition, she also has an otherworldly ability to pair exactly the right musical accompaniment to the narrative. She knows exactly what she’s doing with every moment of her album and you feel that as you work your way through it. She includes traditional and new age pop elements, electronic beats, hints of trap and industrial rhythms. She manages also to hella successfully include bars by both Future and Ed Sheeran in a single song. She’s heavy on symbolism and theme. In one of my favorites, Taylor uses a getaway car as a masterful metaphor. Over the course of the album, she expresses confidence, vengeance, lust, love, regret, and optimism. She’s real. It’s fuckin’ fantastic.

Like most albums, there is one weak link. I reliably skip one track on this album and that’s “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” because, while it’s a phrase I utter nearly daily to my students, it’s just not a song I can get into. Every album has one though, so I’m not upset about it.

Thank you, T Swift. Thank you for putting music to this new stage in our lives. Thank you for being such a reliable springboard for me and others. Thank you for growing and maturing and trying new things. You and your music are a soundtrack I wouldn’t want to do without.

Kinda

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This is not totally accurate, but I laugh every time I see it reblogged.

Teaching continues to be my greatest challenge. I vowed to make it all of November without crying over work (especially AT work), and I made it until the 27th. SO CLOSE, GUYS. My new goal is to make it through December without crying… I don’t want to jinx anything, but there are only only 10 more school days this month.

Teaching has opened some fun new doors for me though. For instance, I have become a professional-level procrastinator. Today, instead of grading essays and creating progress reports, I bought an ugly Christmas sweater. I submitted reviews for several products I’ve recently acquired. I booked trips to Idaho, Tahoe, and Napa over the coming months.  I rented a SUV. I booked a hotel. I strung Christmas lights on one of my bikes in lieu of a tree. I bought a snowboard set on eBay. Then I bought a season pass to Big Bear. I can’t stop shopping?

Parts of life are hard. Parts of me struggle with motivation and follow-through. Other parts of life are richly rewarding. Other parts of me are excited for the future and encouraged by the possibilities that await. There is an uneasy balance here, but if 7 physical hours a week have to be spent with 8th graders, and 10 additional hours have to be spent dealing with related tasks, that still leaves a disproportionate amount of life each week that is spent with 7th graders, and self-selected activities, and wonder, and happiness.

Do I love my job? Kinda. But does it afford me the opportunity to do rad stuff and find joy in spite of the suck? Yeah, it kinda does.

Desert Jewels

The desert is a very pastel world. Rocks, sand, and dirt are all shades of tan or eggshell. Plants are pale green or light gray. Even the super blooms are masses of yellows and pinks. Spending a week back up north surrounded by vivid blues and greens, glaring whites, and endless blacks only affirmed how soft-hued my new world tends to be. There is, however, an incredibly reliable burst of intense color one can expect to see in the desert.

The sunrises and sunsets in the Mojave are nothing short of ridiculous. Like an apology, they bleed from the horizon in the brightest reds, oranges, pinks, and golds. After dawn, the sunrises fade into pastel blue. Following true dusk, the sunsets stain the sky a vivid purple.

They don’t draw everyone out to ogle and photograph; these phenomena are so reliable, people carry on with their lives like a rich tapestry isn’t being unfurled overhead. After eventually stopping attempting to document each, but even still falling victim to the allure on occasion, I have learned why life here continues in spite of the wonder overhead. No camera is capable of capturing the tones the sky is painting, so we just don’t bother. If it can be expected in a new and wondrous arrangement each day, why settle for a inferior facsimile on a small digital screen?

Even so, I want you to know. The desert has few draws but every single sunset has been the best sunset. Every single sunrise is the best sunrise. I feel confident saying that because I have happened to have seen them all over the last x months. Depending on the season, I’ve seen the sunrise on my jog, on my drive in to work, or from the quad at school. Depending on the season, I’ve seen the sunset from the school’s steps, above the dog park, on the trail, through my windshield, or glowing into my kitchen window.

Every element of the desert prides itself on its very pastelness; on its ability to withstand everything and continue to exist without notice. It is the way of this prehistoric environment. The sun makes sure to remind this matte world each day that it too has at least two bright jewels to offer its weary, dusty residents.

Home is [Northern] California

Home is a sentiment but I feel it strongest when I am elsewhere.

Last week I left the desert with the dawn and reached Chico 10 hours later at dusk as the sun set and the rain drizzled. My friends and I went out for fantastic pizza and shared a bottle of white, nestled in a booth in our winter jackets as the lights outside bled in the rain. Back at my Airbnb, Scout was curled into a cinnamon roll on my bed. It was a perfect evening.

In the morning, finding our plans in Yuba had been cancelled, Scout and I returned to Bidwell to revisit the scene of one of her more memorable shenanigans. The rain from the day before had left in the night and a low fog hung over the rim. The volcanic rock was running with rainwater; ephemeral waterfalls sang from the edges of the bluffs. I danced my way along the trail as Scout raced from puddle to pond to rivulet along the route. We hiked 10 miles before lunch. It was a beautiful experience that caused my heart to sing constantly with a harmonic refrain of mutual glee and grief. Scout was off leash the entire time and never caused me concern. I couldn’t have asked for a better day in Chico.

On Tuesday night, in a drive I could have done in my sleep, I swung up to Redding for the evening. Magnetically drawn, it should be no surprise that I found myself back. In the morning, Scout and I hit the road before 8. The pink and purple sunrise framing a cloud-draped Lassen was picture perfect. I sometimes forget the views I took for granted. The orchards and fog on the way back south were equally as scenic. It was getting old having my breath stolen by the scenes around me (she said sarcastically).

Scout and I arrived in Truckee after noon. Though some snow was clinging to the heights of Donner Pass, the Sierra was suspiciously bare. Scout and I spent many hours walking and hiking over the next few days there. We stayed in a home on the golf course which had open space connecting it to the Truckee River trail. We stomped boot tracks and paw prints all over those trails and fields. On Thanksgiving, Scout threw herself into the whitewater but nimbly climbed from the river without needing swift water rescue. When she emerged from the brush, her breath hung in an icy cloud around her alert eyes. We also hiked around Mount Judah at Sugarbowl and visited Donner Memorial State Park. We lived our best Northern California lives and fell into exhausted, cranky sleep in our bottom bunk each night. We missed the snow though. The ice rink at Northstar wasn’t yet open, the ice rink in town was closed, the resorts had delayed their opening days, and an uneasy anticipation hung over the area as visitors and locals alike waited on the forecast to bring the magic. Unfortunately, that magic wasn’t projected to arrive until Scout and I were long gone.

On Sunday, I was too angsty to sleep. Scout was restless too. We pretended to sleep from 2am onward but eventually accepted our fate and rose to begin our slog back south. The wind had risen in the night in advance of the storm system. By the time Scout and I reached the east edge of Lake Tahoe, pink clouds stained a moody velvet sky in advance of dawn. The wind-whipped white caps at Sand Harbor and the state park looked more akin to the Pacific than the beatific shores of memory. The wind would be our howling companion all day. (Also, the cool thing about heading due south for 10 hours is the sun is in your eyes from the moment it crests the horizon until it sets again.) We made the most of the Eastern Sierra journey though, since it had been a trip I had been wanting for a time. Mono Lake, June Lake, Convict Lake, Mammoth, Hot Creek, and various hot springs in the Owen valley were the highlights of the drive. Unfortunately, having passed the last location on my to-see list outside Lone Pine, checking the GPS revealed I still had 4 or more hours of quality car time ahead of me.

The allure was lost. From then onward, as 395 shrank into a two-lane highway, as 58 took me towards Barstow, and finally as 247 pulled me into the Mojave, I was mercilessly abused by a combination of the wind and a succession of aggressively slow moving trailers and motorhomes. It was a nightmare. I was angry about leaving my home of Northern California, I was upset about the lost time, I was anxious about the work week ahead of me, and I was exhausted from a combination of all the things. I unpacked and was asleep around 7pm, much to Scout’s disappointment.

Returning to Northern California was something I had looked forward to since April 8th when I strapped my bike onto the back of the Subaru, filled the gas tank at the last station outside Yuba City, and headed south into the rice fields. I’d left on a rainy spring afternoon and I returned on a rainy autumn eve 7 months later. Every day within those months had contained thoughts, dreams, and memories of the places, people, and experiences that’d composed my years. Returning was everything I had hoped. Northern California’s beauty and wonder was not a construct of my mind or memory. It’s real and it’s still there. If anything, besides breaking my heart, the brief interlude affirmed that “home” will only ever mean that area. I strengthened my resolve to make it back in whatever capacity I can. There are many sides of California, but that one is mine. That one is home.

Words

Whether or not northern indigenous languages contain a dozen (or dozens) of words for “snow,” we should take a cue from their linguistic largesse when considering our own.

It seems woefully lacking that the word love should mean the same thing in the phrase “I love nachos” as it does in the sentiment “I love you.” I mean it differently in each of these sentences; is any of them more valid than the others?

I love mountains.

I love my family.

I love my friends, near and far.

I love animals.

I love life.

I love him.

I love you.

I love Chipotle.

I love traveling.

I love the outdoors.

I love napping.

I love books.

I love Apple products.

I love….

The list could theoretically extend indefinitely. Each love is meant differently, however. Some include an attachment, be it physical or emotional; others involve a passion; still others contain an affinity or interest; some are likely to change and others are a part of my very identity. Why should all of these feelings be forced to share one verb?

In Inuit (or Yupik, or Sami, or various other northern dialects), the reason snow has so many linguistical variants isn’t that there are multiple words per se. Rather, there is a root word that is then developed further with an assortment of prefixes and affixes which build descriptively from the original essence into the necessary noun. In addition to that, this variety exists not for superfluous reasons but because language evolves to suit the ideas and needs of the culture that uses it. Language is dynamic; language will find a way to say what needs to be said.

Love is equally as dynamic. Maybe there once was just one love. Maybe it meant a feeling you couldn’t help. Maybe it meant a warmth inside your chest. Maybe it meant goosebumps or butterflies. Maybe it meant ‘looking forward to.’ Maybe it meant ‘can’t imagine life without.’ More likely though, these are the modern incantations of the term. At the time of the birth of modern languages, to have the luxury to love something was probably unthinkable. When survival is the priority, what room is there for sentiment? Love perhaps meant the feeling you had for something you could not live without. Maybe that is how it came to mean what we know it for now.

Even knowing that it’s perhaps a dated term, and accepting that I’m being overly pedantic about the whole thing, I wish I had more words to describe the feelings I have for the people and things that are meaningful.

I want a word to describe the deep, visceral attachment I feel towards mountains and forests. I want a word to describe the way my breath catches when I see the deep blue and green of an alpine lake. I want a word to describe how my family sometimes frustrates me but the mere thought that someday our ways will part eternally strangles me instantly. I want a word for spending years with someone and no longer knowing how to differentiate familiarity from desire. I want a word for knowing that someone will always be a part of your heart, regardless of contact. I want a word for someone that is lurking in your thoughts and influencing your actions. I want a word for that feeling of pleasure and purpose that a class full of earnest smiles and eager questions brings. I want a word for the feeling of relief I get when the final bell rings. I want a word for the camaraderie shared between those of similar minds, or those embroiled in shared suffering. I want a word for a food you never tire of. I want a word for tiramisu, and raspberries, and wild flowers. I want a word for the elation that moody, puffy clouds carry. I want a word for love. I want many more words for love.

I love words, but I want more.

Beauty

Life is about balance. I want to be mindful and aware that, in spite of hardship and struggle, beauty and peace also exist.

  1. 7th grade students – full of wonder and enthusiasm for life and learning
  2. Colleagues – wise and patient instructors of children and adults alike
  3. The night sky here – fiery layers of stars from dusk until dawn in a deeply dark bowl above and around me
  4. My family – implicit supporters in spite of the tears and fears
  5. The sunrise on the morning Steve left – sorbet layers of clouds and desert haze above the blue mountains
  6. The way the air shimmers after a windy day
  7. Tiramisu – light and creamy
  8. Scout’s caramel eyes – sparkling with love and excitement
  9. Clean sheets – crisp and cool; an embrace
  10. Tight pants – confidence
  11. Smoked gouda – guilty pleasure and favorite Farmer’s Market find
  12. Lemonade – acceptable substitute for water, which I miss
  13. Raisinettes – desk drawer treat
  14. Baby bunnies – everywhere, always
  15. Cooler mornings – a chance to wear sleeves and hoods on morning jogs
  16. Earlier sunsets – a welcome end to every day
  17. Heirloom tomatoes – colorful, firm, flavorful
  18. Roadrunners – Ridiculous dinosaurs
  19. Dog park friends – compadres
  20. Yoga classes – twisty, restorative me-time
  21. Raspberries – relics of wilder, wetter lands; tasting of sunshine and dirt
  22. Autumn in the San Bernardino National Forest – colors like northern home
  23. Southwestern food – a staple
  24. Weekend couch naps – essential recharging
  25. Books – sweet escape

Title Options

Some ideas for working titles for my memoir if/when I survive this experience:

  • “‘Why Is This Wet?’ and Other Questions I Don’t Want Answered – A Memoir of a Junior High Teacher”
  • “Dick or Cactus – The Dangers of Encouraging Drawing in the Classroom”
  • “You Kiss Your Mother With That Filthy Mouth — Yes, I Have Ears”
  • “Fist Fights, Drug Busts, and Runaways – My First Month of Teaching
  • “You Wish Today was Rock Bottom; Count Your Blessings – A Devotional”
  • “8th Grade is my Vietnam – A War Memoir”
  • “This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things and Other Realizations”
  • “This Class is Lit – Words of Affirmation from Generation Z”

A New Climb

Struggle is subjective.

Everything I have ever thought was the hardest thing I have ever done has, over time, been replaced by a greater challenge. There will always be a greater mountain to climb and perhaps that is the purpose of life. Perhaps when you run out of challenges, life is over.

I thought losing Jaydon was the hardest thing I could go through. At that moment and in the months that followed, it was. Then it was the sale of the family home. Then it was raising a puppy. Then it was the credential process. Then it was walking away from the perfect relationship. Then it was leaving Yuba City in conjunction with accepting the desert. Now it is teaching.

One day, this will be a mountain that I look back on from another higher vantage. I will reflect on how, at the time, I thought I would never reach the peak.

Every struggle you have will one day feel doable. Every hard moment will one day be a distant memory. Every climb leads to a great view …and after every great view, you get to do it again.

Many days, I sense that I am fulfilling some purpose that was chosen for me millennia ago. Some days though I feel like a joke. On those days–the days that I am the jester–I try to remember that this feeling is short-lived. These moments feel lengthy in real-time but, in hindsight, are formative and swift. There is a snap, a sting, a shudder …and then there is nothing (save wisdom and strength and the wherewithal to do it over again).

This is hard but likewise have many other experiences been and, furthermore, will future endeavors likely be. If it is hard, it is working. If it is hard, I am still living.

Struggle is subjective but still this climb is daunting.

I Lived

“What’d you do this summer?”
“I lived!”

Even by my standards, this was a busy break. I visited the 9 western states, which took many hours of online planning, a nearly equal amount of time in cars, and 12 flights to accomplish. I explored new National Monuments, state parks, historical sites, museums, galleries, and eateries along the way. I slept in rentals, in tents, on couches, and with family. I stocked up on ridiculous souvenirs and took enough pictures to fill a new Dropbox. There were heat waves and sunburns and thunderstorms and flood warnings. There was joy and there was uncertainty. There was delight and also frustration. Nevertheless, I sought out new experiences and areas outside my comfort zone and I was rewarded handily. The “Summer of Solo Travel” is something I definitely anticipate repeating moving forward, as a result of this inaugural experience. I don’t know what this school year will be like or what the next 10 months will hold, but I know that I did everything I could to make this time my own. These next months belong to MUSD, or TPJHS, or even CCSS. They belong to students. They belong to administrators. But these few were mine alone and I lived them to the fullest.