A Modern Hippie?

“Hippie” isn’t a word I would readily associate with myself. To me, it conjures images of recklessness and opposition. I believe I embody neither of these. I appreciate convention. I follow rules. I make plans and adhere to them. I constantly consider the future.

And yet…while I appreciate convention, I find myself, as of late, deviating from it in greater and greater degrees. In the past year, my life has come into clearer focus. I have a much better idea of what I am working toward and how I wish to live my life. But this grand picture looks very different from that of my friends and family. At times, it feels as though the color palette with which I’m working is skewed, which makes me wonder…

Am I a modern hippie?

Certainly, it’s unconventional that my husband and I do not want to have children. Everyone reminds us of this, and I see why. Children are part of the logical progression of life. Yet, we have chosen not to follow this progression. Despite everyone’s disbelief, I am glad for this decision and feel it is the right one for us. As an added benefit, it gives me the opportunity to invest more time and effort into my students.

Then there’s the fact that I like my occupation so much that I don’t want to move up to the administrative level.

It’s not a matter of being lazy; it’s a matter of being happy. I like being in the classroom and interacting with students. I like the autonomy of creating an inviting environment and enjoying students’ successes within it. I don’t want to spend my days meting out discipline or arguing with the school board.

Yet, the negative connotation associated with being content has been ingrained in my head, and it makes me question if there’s something reckless about not wanting to move up the occupational ladder. It makes me sound indolent, when in reality I see great value in what I do, and I enjoy that.

So last night after dinner, as I sat listening to the rain patter on the windows, I considered the curious path my life has taken and then reveled in its uniqueness.

When I was in college, I imagined a future filled with suits and offices and cramped apartments in big cities. I assumed that I would join the stereotypical grind associated with the publishing industry. But I was destined to follow a different road, one that led me toward an occupation I formerly had vehemently opposed: teaching.

Now, I look back and give thanks for each uneven cobblestone in the winding path of my life.

20140430-152604.jpgI also look forward and see that same crooked trail extending out in front of me. There’s no sign of immense wealth or corporate dominion or staggering fame, but there’s the promise of tranquil, rainy evenings on the couch with my husband, jubilant dinners with friends, and a quiet sense of accomplishment in the classroom.

These things are deceptively simple, but I’ve come to value them more than the standards of success put forth by American media.

A person’s life cannot be measured by his/her wealth, occupation, or number of degrees.

At least, I don’t believe so.

But then again…I’m just a modern hippie promoting peace, love, and happiness in a world where these seem to be in short supply.

The Commute

Despite all of the benefits of my job, I still have qualms with the commute.

It’s long.

It’s boring.

It involves a two-lane road.

It often means crawling behind large, slow-moving trucks.

It requires me to get up at an ungodly hour to make it to work on time.

Yeah, it’s not my favorite, especially first thing in the morning…

Yet, it was one of the concessions I had to make. So I start every morning the same way. In the dark, I wind through towns composed mainly of industrial eye-sores and landfills. I focus on Florence and the Machine and not on the rows and rows of tired-looking trucks, blanketed in dust next to the sand and stone mills. I let my mind wander, avoiding the desolation surrounding me.

That characterizes the majority of my drive.

Yet, just before I reach my destination, a strange thing happens. A sharp turn takes me up a steep hill where fields stretch alongside, dotted with lush trees. At the top of this particular hill is an incredible view. It’s easy to miss, and it took me a while to finally grasp it through the fog, but as intense green fields stretch down and away from my hilltop perch, they converge in the distance upon a shimmering lake. The effect is surreal, and I’m convinced you would probably find the same view from a hilltop in Narnia.hillside

This is where a shift occurs. My commute becomes something different entirely. The music stays loud—okay, I might start singing along—but my attention extends to my surroundings. Some days it’s the quality of the clouds. You see, by this time the sun has begun to rise, and I have seen some of the most exquisite skies, painted with pinks, blues, and violets, as though an Impressionist was painting the landscape of my life. Other days, it’s the ethereal blanket of fog that covers the valley, suggesting that my journey is a quiet, personal one. But it’s always the trees…lush, expansive, storybook trees, the kind you could spend an entire afternoon under. It’s as though they stand amidst the fog and clouds protecting secrets and dreams.

Yeah, I’ve got a thing for trees…

However, this valley and these trees, while enchanting, are not the pinnacle of my drive. No, that is several hills and hairpin curves down the road.

Just minutes from work, there is a field. It’s filled with tall, swaying grass and a few of the most perfectly-imagined trees I’ve ever seen. You know the kind of trees you drew as a kid? The ones with tall, thick trunks that supported lavish numbers of vibrant green leaves? The ones that could shade several families with room to spare? Well, I’ve found them in the real world. I’m certain these trees were imagined in a storybook, and then someone’s intense desire for beauty in the world pulled them off the pages and caused them to manifest in Florida.

And they exist at the end of my commute, the one I intensely dislike. Hmmm…

Needless to say, these natural sources of beauty have become my reminders…you will find beauty in the most mundane of places, and if you don’t stop and look around, you’ll miss it.

In fact, the other day on my way home, the breeze blew softly through the grass, energizing the entire field, and I was struck by the sight of a handful of brown and white cows enjoying the shade of my storybook trees, looking on as a single, tiny calf frolicked in the blinding, Florida sunshine.tree cows

And I couldn’t help but smile. It was that gorgeous.

So while my whole commute is far from perfect, these glimpses of beauty are what I will remember most.

You know…if I’m really lucky, down the road, I’ll say the same of this grander journey we call life.

 
photo credit: *Light Painting* via photopin cc

photo credit: Claudio.Ar via photopin cc

A Call to Savor…

I have been told on occasion that I don’t come off as the most hospitable of individuals upon introduction.

I know. I know. Those of you who know me are chuckling with bits of recognition, so I might as well admit that I have also been told that I have very little control over my facial features when I’m surprised or irritated. I’m just not very good about rearranging my face to hide my feelings.

Yet, I will contend that I employ a great deal more self-restraint and open-mindedness than I have been given credit for when it comes to initial meetings. I believe in giving people an opportunity to reveal themselves, rather than leading with judgment.

That being said, I am apparently—according to popular opinion—a judgmental person. My inclination is to spend the next few lines arguing against this claim, but I also don’t want to be called a liar. So I might as well qualify that statement instead…

I am judgmental in the sense that I believe in simplicity (my word of the year!) and detest unnecessary drama. I am no longer in high school or college. I do not have a roommate I secretly despise or a group of friends with whom I am periodically at odds.

I am beyond wasting time on such irritations. I’m an adult. I can choose with whom I spend my time, and I choose to spend it with individuals who understand the beauty of simplicity and living fully.

When it comes down to it, it’s all about savoring the experience, and I want to surround myself with like-minded people.

To my immense delight, I am lucky enough to have found a group of friends who embrace my fervor.20140416-222058.jpg

Just this week, we celebrated my husband’s birthday with a dinner outing. The restaurant was beautiful, and the private room was extravagant. The service was impeccable, and the meal was delicious. Sure, the salads were bold with trendy, nutritious kale and an enchanting bacon vinaigrette, the main dish was a whole, slow-roasted suckling pig, and the sides had modern, adventurous twists. But when it really comes down to it, we enjoyed salad, ham, mac and cheese, okra, and corn with the enthusiasm of world explorers.

Yes, it was an incredible meal. But the quality of the experience had more to do with the mindset of the party than with the dishes themselves. We had all come together in celebration of my husband, and we were focused on embracing every bit of the experience.

Fortunately, nothing disappointed. But you know, as I listened to the table exclaim their adoration for the corn (who knew that Carolina white sauce had a transcending influence upon corn?), I realized that they really could have served us anything as long as it was edible, and we would have made the best of it. We were there to enjoy one another’s company and celebrate the beauty of living fully.

Everyone at that table had to rearrange conflicts, stave off exhaustion, and arrange for the expense, but that evening we were all focused on enjoying the adventure, in a way that I think would have made Hemingway proud.

And later that evening, as I sat beneath a dreamy night sky, lounging on a cushioned setee, I surveyed our friends as they drank in the details of the enchanting rooftop patio, accessible only through a password protected speakeasy. Their faces mirrored mine on my first introduction to the small, Prohibition Era-themed bar. I watched as they sighed under the Orlando skyline, ran their fingertips along ornate frames on the brick walls, and sipped their carefully crafted cocktails.20140416-222140.jpg

I remember the feeling of elation when I realized that they felt the same as I had: the sense that what mattered most was sharing this experience with one another.

There were no shots, dancing, shouting, or wild outbursts that evening.

There was simply our conversation and camaraderie beneath an endless sky.

And best of all…I didn’t have to tell them to savor it. They already knew.

So, while I won’t embrace my judgmental label, I will gladly admit to being choosy…because obviously I choose very well.

And with that egocentric proclamation, I follow with a more profound request:

Savor the moment. You’ll be glad you did.

 

 

 

A Letter to My Students

For the past week in class, we’ve been discussing the tenets of Feminist Criticism and applying this lens to various texts, canonical and contemporary. After all that analysis, I asked the students to turn their analytical eyes inward and write a letter to their future children, advising them about relationships.

And what they wrote was surprisingly heartfelt and profound. They reached deeply to include lessons they’ve learned the hard way and shared sad, but unavoidable truths.

Yet, what I wanted to share today was not what they wrote to me, but what I wrote to them. You see, one of the incredible teachers with whom I work shared that she always writes one to her students to model the format, and she suggested that I do the same. I loved the idea. Finally…an opportunity to share some of the things that I’ve been thinking but never had the opportunity to say.

So this is what I wrote…

Dear Seniors,

I wanted to write my own letter to you, not out of obligation, but because I’ve never taught a class like you. In a mere couple of months, you have taught me more about what it means to be a teacher than the past five years have been able to do. In the process, you’ve become much more than students to me. You see, your successes bring me joy, your failures break my heart, and your futures give me hope. I want only the very best for you, which is why I have a few words of wisdom to pass along. Go ahead, roll your eyes and shake your heads, but know that I mean every word of it.

I love your spirit and your individuality. From day one, you guys showed me that you were creative, unique, and driven; it is my intense hope that you hang on to these attributes. Don’t let anyone take them from you. You will find—unfortunately, many of you already have—that people will try to undermine you to make themselves feel better. Don’t give them the chance. Believe in yourself. Be confident in who you are. Always respect yourself. Once you do, the world will follow your lead.

That goes for relationships, as well. You deserve someone who loves and respects you. You deserve honesty and loyalty. Don’t settle for less. You’re young. Take this time to hugfocus on becoming the person you want to be and not who someone expects you to be. Likewise, treat others kindly. No one appreciates being excluded or humiliated. Remember that we are much more complex than Disney characters, so those shallow, fictional expectations won’t work for us. Be real. Be honest with yourself and with others, and then follow your heart.

I made the mistake of thinking I should hang on to a relationship because there was a chance it would get better down the road. I even considered marrying this man because he seemed like a safe choice. He had a promising career and was driven by success. It took me five years to realize that I would rather take a chance on my future than tolerate his temper and suffocate under his control any longer. It was the best decision I ever made. Only a few months later, my husband asked me out on a date, and I finally knew what it was to be truly in love.

I tell you this because I don’t want you to make the same mistake. Seriously, don’t settle. If your heart doesn’t sing when you’re with him/her, let go. You deserve better.

Finally, make sure that every once in a while you take a break from social media and spend time in the “real world.” Remember, “we’re more than just hashtags and Twitter” (Passenger). Really get to know the people around you; you might be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

I’m incredibly thankful that I’ve had the chance to get to know you all. In essence, our lives are the sum of our greatest joys, lowest sorrows, and all the experiences in between. You guys definitely qualify as a “great joy,” so thank you for changing me for the better. If I can have only a fraction of the influence on you that you have had on me, then I’d call this semester a complete success.

Thank you and good luck!

-Emma Grace

And as corny and didactic as my letter was, to me it represented the kind of teacher I’ve always wanted to be.

I want to teach my students in a real world sort of way. Yes, they now understand Feminist Criticism, but I’m more concerned that they understand what it means to respect themselves and others.

listen poemI know many will disagree and claim that this is the parents’ role, but is it so wrong to reinforce such a message? And what about those students who don’t hear it at home?

I can’t help but admit that this year has been a lesson in what really matters versus superficial, political correctness. It was a lesson that I sorely needed because when it comes right down to it…how can I expect my students to be real if I’m not?

Who knew…it turns out you can learn a great deal from teenagers, if you’re willing to listen.

 

 

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