Sunday, August 8, 2010

icing on the cake

Note to Self:

There have been times you have reduced something to being "icing on the cake," as if the aesthetic and enjoyable are merely superfluous, ornamental elements of life.  The truth is that icing is the best part of the cake. You would never consider eating cake alone.  It would be a bland, high-calorie muffin.  But my God, add some frosting and it becomes one of the best things in life.  Try busting out an frosting-free cake at your next birthday party and see if it's "just icing on the cake." It could be the best baked cake and everyone will still remember you as that douche bag that tried passing off a giant muffin as a cake.

I'm thinking maybe your use of the phrase goes deeper.  On some level, you buy into the American Gothic, stoic, orderly waspy value system.  You see something as necessary only if it's functional (you own one item of jewelry and you don't own a watch).  You don't understand why people care so much about cars or clothes and on some level, that's all noble.  But you should know better.  Enjoy the icing on the cake.  Enjoy a slow pint of hefeweizen or a cup of coffee or the sheer enjoyment of dipping a spoon into a fresh jar of peanut butter or popping bubble wrap, because life would suck without the icing.


Friday, August 6, 2010

Summer Vacation

Note to Self:

You didn't have a vacation.  You weren't baking in coconut oil, sipping a margarita and sleeping in until eleven.  You didn't lounge around on lazy boy, curling up to a novel and sipping iced coffee.  You didn't go to someplace exotic, where you could come back and feel the conflicting sense of superiority in America ("Oh God, we have it so good here.  You don't know how other people live") and a smug sense that the locals have taught you something ("They were so poor and yet so happy.")

You spent this summer breaking up fights between the boys and mowing the yard and reading stories and seeing grace in the garden, when you were awestruck by tomatoes transforming into salsa.  All from a tiny seed nonetheless.  And you were even more awestruck when Brenna learned to wave the day.  You planned units and fought off the urge to overplan.  You imagined the students you don't yet know and you had instant-message conversations with students of the past.  You experienced what it was like to stay up late talking to Christy without worrying about how tired you would be when you tried to teach the next day.

Vacation is escape.  There's nothing wrong with escape.  It has its place in life.  However, what you experienced was a sabbatical. You experienced rest and restoration.  Instead of an escape from the banality of life, you got a chance to experience the authenticity of relationships.

So call it Summer Sabbatical.  It has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?  You love alliteration, so that's a bonus.

anger management

Note to Self:

You step up to the sliding glass door and re-live the pain of the pane, shattered by the projectile plate that you threw the ground because someone called immigrants "dirty criminals" and you remembered every student you knew who had been deported. For a moment, you wish you could be a little nicer. A little more pleasant.  A little more Mr. Rogers. A man of many cardigans who says, "Isn't that swell" and "We'll just agree to disagree."

You think that perhaps there is a magical formula to prevent you from ever losing your temper like that again, a way to manage anger.

Then, you step outside, holding Brenna and listening to the rain.  Micah beckons you out from the porch and you stand in the rain.  Then you dance.  You jump.  You smile.  You cry.  Tears of joy.  Tears of release.  You know that it will mean you have to get a new shirt and you'll have to change Brenna and she might eventually cry.  But right now she's laughing and smiling and you cleanse yourself in the monsoon storm.

You're passionate, John.  You're sensitive.  It's something you can't escape.

Nice guys don't get crucified.  They don't get shot on balconies.  They aren't told by the community that the only remedies for their questions is a strong shot of hemlock.

You don't have to be nice.


You need to be loving, compassionate, kind, even gentle.  But nice? Not so much.

Later at Starbucks as you hear the men talk about the new rules for the Home Owner's Association and you watch one of them get distracted by his blue tooth conversation about professional golf, the truth is confirmed. Life is a vapor and you can't let it pass by in quiet desperation.  It's too short for, "How about the weather?" and afternoons spent watching professional golf.

So, live passionately.  Write books.  Dance with your kids.  Ask hard questions that might lead to scary answers.  Make love to your wife and bear your soul to her.  Share a pint with your friends and talk about something deeper than the local hometown sports team.  Dare to care about your students and teach with energy even when it's late May and their in eighth grade and the Wall of Apathy seems insurmountable.

You know that deep within your soul, the only cure for losing your temper is humility.  Try to manage it and you'll be just as angry, but you'll kill your sensitive, passionate soul.