This must be the place.

LOVE

I’m just an animal looking for a home
And share the same space for a minute or two
And you love me till my heart stops
Love me till I’m dead

November is the belly of my whale, so to speak. I have spent more than a few days this month, more than I care to admit, struggling with demons real and imagined.  I have struggled to just sit down and write, much less think.

This isn’t the first November I’ve felt this way. I find that in November things can go from sucking to spectacular, back to sucking, in an instant. One minute I’m feeling appreciation towards everything and everyone, the next moment I’m wishing I could flee the state.

The weather has changed, it’s dark outside when I go home at night, and I wax nostalgic for the weather that I was ready to do anything to change just a month ago. The holidays, of course, add a whole other dimension to everything. Batshit crazy, anyone?

And in the thick of it, I realized that November is my month to commit. To go all in, in spite of myself. Heck, I even have a November baby, who forever changed the course of my life after an 8 hour labor. Now, that is commitment.

All In.

The other night, Parenthood was on, and in this episode Hank, his ex and their daughter were in full blown drama mode. Sarah, the girlfriend, has been steadfastly at his side as their story has unfolded. Of course, in the middle of it all, her ex appears and Hank starts to wonder if Sarah really wants to be in it. It’s Hollywood and all, so of course she says yes and we get this beautiful moment.

As Tim O’Brien once wrote, story-truth is often truer than happening-truth. Or maybe it’s exactly the same.

In mid November of 2004, Tim and I hosted a bevy of boys for Noah’s 9th birthday. We lived in a tiny house at the time, but T and I sucked it up to host a tweentastic event. Video games, sugar, mayhem…all in a crazy overnight. At 1 am, we fell into bed as the kids finished another round of the latest game and snacked on more Hot Cheetos. I thought Tim was going to break it off. Seriously.

Tim woke me up at around 2 am. The gentle snores of the kids could be heard from the other room.

“I need to talk to you.”

FYI, I hate being woken up. I don’t exactly remember how I felt at the time, but I am sure it was irritation and possibly a slight panic.

“What? Is everything ok?”

I sat up.

Tim looked scared. Or something.

“Let’s get married. I think…we should get married. I love you. Let’s get married.”

I looked at this man, and I could see the guy who loved me. All of me. All of me included a 9 year old boy and his gaggle of guy friends. All of me included a dog that scratched the floors and occasionally went rogue in the neighborhood, scaring the elderly and the small children alike. All of me included a neurotic but willing heart.

I don’t remember what I said exactly, other than to say yes. To commit.

I would joke later that Tim asked me when he realized he was going to die one day, and maybe there is truth in that. We aren’t getting any younger. But maybe it’s the realization that there’s no point in fighting what is already there in front of us.

Maybe we resist most what may save us.

We lay there for a bit, talking, then we did what people who don’t know what to do next do. Tim turned on the TV. Seriously. And in the middle of the night, on our little bedroom screen, was the closing credits of Wall Street playing to Talking Heads’ “This Must Be the Place.”

A song about affection. A song about finding what is already in front of you. A song about seeking what you already have. Our song. My song.

There of course is more to this story.  And though it didn’t happen in a November, it might as well have been when I spoke a tiny prayer into the world that if I could just make it right with Tim that I would spend every day of my life making it up to him. Making it up to me.

Back to that. Maybe being in the belly of the whale means letting ourselves to be swallowed so we can be set free.  Maybe the belly of the whale is scary, and beautiful and wild. Maybe the belly of the whale dares us to be more. Maybe the belly of the whale is full of gratitude and depth. Maybe the belly of the whale is where we discover ourselves, again and again.

This must be the place.

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feedback loop.

IMG_1945

I would like to think I am a positive and self aware person. Years of reading self help books, participating in workshops, training as a personal coach, working as an educator…it seems that all I do is focus my attention on how things can be deeper, better, more engaging. How I can be better.

I realize I have sought out these tools because, like many folks, I tend to be future or past focused and have wanted to just BE MYSELF. I know in my heart that’s where it’s at – that there is both love and freedom in the delightful present. Be.Here.Now.

Right?

(Some benefits of the Now: It’s that moment when you stop worrying for one tiny second about the bill you got in the mail and look up to see your son has created what he calls “a hug machine” and is thoroughly hugging the life out of his brother. Or when you go home feeling defeated about work, and basically ready to leave it all for WHATEVER (anything is better than this feeling!), and you get a text from your friend telling you how awesome you are. Connection re-established.)

I mean, Life is constantly giving us positive feedback, based on our thoughts and actions. I don’t mean that it’s all good, just that it is constant. Cause, effect. Cause, effect. When we are tuned into this feedback loop, the world can be the best teacher, providing us opportunities to learn and grow at every turn. Even the bad stuff has a message in it if I’m paying attention.

But, clearly this week I was forgetting all of this, so Mrs. Universe had to kick me in the ass in so many ways that essentially every experience I have had this week cried out, “Learn from me! Learn from me!” Or, at least, “Remember! Remember!” If I feel a twinge in my rear, I know it’s another lesson, seriously. Ouch!

All of the lessons, quite comically, around the topic of feedback. Mrs. Universe must also have a sense of humor.

Beginning of the week (aka where am I going?)

I started the week reading educational research on effective feedback. According to John Hattie, one of the key elements in creating a safe and supportive learning environment, a community of learners, is by providing effective (aka useful, timely, and personalized) feedback.  According to his research, “effective feedback can double the speed of learning.”

Pretty cool, right?  Good feedback is supposed to help us understand the following:

  • Where am I going?
  • How am I going?
  • Where to next?

There are also four levels of feedback: task, process, self-regulation, and self. The more specific, and the less geared towards the self (i.e. “good job!”) the more effective one can be.I used some of this information immediately when I was visiting classrooms early in the week. I was startled at how much more effective it is to interact with someone when you’re talking about the behavior, and not the person. I also kept these concepts in mind while I strategized with students about an issue we are having on campus. I went home. I tried it on my kids. Success!

Things were going swimmingly. Let the feedback begin!

Middle of the week (or rather, how am I going?)

Mid week.  Meeting. Barely anybody talked. Tension? Palpable. Nothing decided. I felt like crap when I left, disconnected and ready to throw in the towel. Feedback loop? Shut like a clam.

That whole experience led me a coffee shop, where I sucked down a latte and devoured a chocolate chip cookie.  That didn’t help much, but what did? The barista sang to me. About my latte. I laughed, and thanked him for making my day after such a terrible time. We chatted for a bit, and when I said “at least you’re in a good mood,” he replied, “who says I’m in a good mood?”

That stopped me in my tracks. I actually looked him in the eye.

“I woke up late for work, somebody rear ended my truck, and I ate a bug while I was riding my bike here.”

My response? “But you’re  singing.” I went on my way, and my mood was lifted. Life was telling me to snap out of it.

I was almost ready to listen.

That night, I cozied up again with Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly  (which I am still reading). That’s what I do when I feel like crap. I feel bad for a bit, then start looking for answers. About twenty minutes into reading, I hit the chapter on “Disruptive Engagement” and had an aha! moment.  “Vulnerability is at the heart of the feedback process.” This hit me like a ton of bricks. Everyone, including me, was – as she says – “armored up” for that meeting. If you’re ready for a battle, you’re most likely going to get one.

Once I recognized this, I started reading through for tips on how to address this issue in my own environment.  As I read, I found myself. And oddly, it made me think of my fascination with the Giants’ postseason games. As Brown writes, “(athletes) know how to handle – and fix – defeat.” That was so appealing to me, to watch the team get their butts kicked one day and come back the next. Own your stuff, dust yourself off, and keep going. In this situation, I hadn’t done a very good job of, well, any of that. I was in a shame and blame spiral a mile wide and a mile deep. I had to get out of it.

I have never been an athlete, but somewhere inside of me I do have that spirit that comes to call occasionally. I have had crushing defeat at the interviewing table (think “how do you even think you’re qualified for this job?”) only to get the next one because I had to win, to show that I am capable. I have flunked college classes, and come back fighting.  This is who I am, this is how I am. So, this is how I am going. And that’s ok. I just have to own my stuff, dust myself off, and keep on going. 

Life finally got through to me.

End of the week (um, where to next?)

Life gave me its final message on feedback through the voice of two delightful college students at the Buddhist Church service I attended this morning. The topic chosen by the guest speakers? The nature of impermanence, learning from and letting go our mistakes and how we have the power to change at any time.

Now, life, you’re just being a show off.