Posted in Life, Writing

Take Your Mind Off Things

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Right now, my dog, Uno, is curled up on the bed behind me, his sixty-five-pound body making a perfect, tight circle, his nose tucked into his tail. He is obviously cold, even though it’s 68 degrees in our house right now. I could cover him with a blanket. Sometimes we do—like at bedtime when he’s in his crate (because we keep the house really cold at night, and he looks like one of the pets on those cruelty-to-animals commercials if we don’t) and sometimes just to be cute (because he’s already a really cute dog, and when you cover him up with a purple blanket, his cuteness ratchets up to squeal-level). But right now, I don’t cover him because two hours ago we took him on a walk through the neighborhood when it was 33 degrees and windy, and although we were bundled up like walking burritos (brrr-itos, get it?) and shaking in our wool socks, Uno was happily trotting along, bouncy with energy and stopping to sniff every new smell as if he had all the time in the world. I mean, why rush just because Mom & Dad’s noses have snotcicles hanging from them? It’s now 28 degrees and dark outside and still windy, yet if I offered a second W-A-L-K, Uno would be happy to oblige. But then he would come home and curl up into a tight little ball again, looking like the poster child for the SPCA. (If he weren’t on a bed, under a blanket, in front of a space heater, that is.)

This dog dichotomy has got me thinking about my own hypocritical tendencies. This past weekend, I visited the new Austin Central Library with a good friend. We walked up all six flights of Hogwarts-style stairs* and all the way back down again. After that, we went for a walk around Lady Bird Lake with my husband and the aforementioned Uno. Not being a particularly athletic-type person anymore, my legs were already weary from the library stairs, and halfway into our loop, I was feeling tired and sore and just a wee bit whiny. But THEN we arrived at the dog park at Auditorium Shores, and the site of all those adorable wagging tales and lolling tongues perked me right up. I watched games of fetch, petted a group of Great Danes, squealed at a baby Husky, and laughed at a Weimaraner trying to catch a squirrel in a tree. (How dumb does a squirrel have to be to choose to live in a dog park?) When we left, I had a smile on my face and a skip in my step.** It wasn’t until we were almost back to the start of the trail that I remembered I was supposed to be tired. Hmm…

Another moment this makes me think of happened in my first period class last week. A student with sensory issues arrived to my room in distress because his shirt was itchy. This is no laughing matter. Consider the least comfortable item of clothing you own—the pants that are too tight or the sock that always turns around inside your shoe or the boot that rubs a blister on your heel—and multiply that sensation times ten. This is what kids (and adults) with sensory issues have to deal with. It was only 8:30 in the morning, and already the student was red-faced and angry about his unbearable situation. After we determined that there was no tag to be cut out (it was just itchy fabric) and no extra shirt to change into, I empathized with him and said he’d just have to get through the day and then never wear this terrible shirt again. He was still yanking at the collar and snarling as I gave directions for the lesson, but a few minutes later when he was working with his partner on their project, I noticed that his face was back to it’s usual color, and he was gesticulating wildly with his hands, no longer tearing at his shirt. The itchy fabric seemed to be forgotten. For the moment, at least, he didn’t mind it.*** Hmm… again.

“Mindful” is a buzzword these days. We are encouraged to be mindful of our surroundings, mindful of others, and mindful of ourselves. We remind ourselves to slow down, take deep breaths, and be in the moment. At my school, we even have “Mindful Mondays” where each week, the counselor leads us through a short exercise on mindfulness during the afternoon announcements. I love these little lessons. 95% of the time, I’m on board with being mindful. I think it makes us better, healthier, happier inhabitants of the world. But then there’s that other 5% of the time when we need to get out of our heads and take our minds OFF things. In other words, sometimes we just need to lose our minds a little bit.

My cold pup loses his mind when we go for a walk. I lose my mind when I see a bunch of adorable dogs. This student lost his mind when he started having fun working on his project. And we were all better off without them.

One more example that comes to mind is… this blog post. I’ve been trying to write a blog post for three days now. My original idea turned out to be too big and needed more research than I was willing to do. After that, I just stared at the computer a lot while eating Sour Patch Kids and thinking, I have absolutely nothing to say. Then I’d watch Will & Grace reruns and call it a night. And… repeat. Tonight I sat down and, although I was out of Sour Patch Kids, I was also still empty of ideas. Nothing worked, mainly because I didn’t try anything. I just sat and stared and thought writerly thoughts that were the equivalent of I’m cold and I’m tired and I’m itchy. Finally, I decided to write for ten minutes. Not a blog post, just something. ANYTHING. Ten minutes of words and then I would give myself permission to watch Will & Grace and go to bed. I looked around my room for something to say. I saw my dog curled up into a ball. I started typing. And then… I lost my mind.

That was an hour ago.

I’ve found my mind again. It’s right where I left it, next to this finished blog post.

Today, I give you permission to take your mind off things.

* One of my students told me the new library had stairs “like in Harry Potter.” The staircases are very pretty, but I’m disappointed that they don’t move.

** After we left the dog park, we walked by the statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Uno had to growl at it for several minutes before we could continue on. What does my dog have against this Austin icon???

*** If my student had not been able to take his mind off the itchy shirt, I promise I would have found something else for him to wear. I did make his other teachers aware of the issue in case he became mindful of it again during the day.

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the offending statue

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Don’t forget! The Morose Penguin Review is accepting submissions until midnight on January 31st! Send your best and/or worst and/or only poems about morose penguins via the Contact Form on my website.

Posted in Life, Teaching

Be the Rubber Band

On Saturday night, while Austin was getting its relatively mild dose of Hurricane Harvey, we ordered Chinese food (and gave the poor delivery guy a hefty tip for braving the rain to bring us kung pao shrimp and egg rolls).

When I finished eating, I opened my fortune cookie and found this:

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Um… what?

I shared this piece of “wisdom” on Facebook and got lots of responses. One person thought I should turn it into a horror story, and another suggested it came from an opium den, but most people seemed as clueless as I was. No one offered up a possible meaning. So I shrugged, chalked it up to one of the mysteries of the universe, and forgot about it.

Until tonight.

After a shortened day of teaching that seemed extra long, I went to yoga. Jess, my Hatha teacher at YogaYoga is amazing. She is a patient, supportive, experienced yogi who helps her students challenge themselves in safe ways, but she’s also just a damn good teacher. People who are truly born to teach can teach anything and do it well. Jess not only exercises our bodies, she exercises our minds. She never fails to inspire positivity and light and compassion for one another (and ourselves) even in the darkest of times, and she does so with humor and grace. I’ve been to her class the day after tragic shootings. I’ve been to her class the day after racist riots. I’ve been to her class the day after catastrophic storms. And every single time, she acknowledges the event and leads us to a place, both physically and spiritually, where we can overcome it. I really admire this woman, and I strive to teach like she does.

Today, at the beginning of class, Jess encouraged us to set an intention. This is common in yoga classes, to give yourself a goal or a focus of some sort. I usually try to keep mine simple. Be creative. Be productive. Be relaxed. Be patient. But today I hadn’t thought about it before arriving, and before I could even consider what I wanted out of my week, this thought floated through my head:

The rubber bands are heading in the right direction.

Okay…

The thing is, I’ve learned to listen during yoga—to my teacher, to the world, and to myself. Even when things don’t make sense at first, their meaning usually reveals itself later on. So I decided to go with it.

Fine, I thought. I shall be the rubber band. And suddenly, it all became clear: I will stretch myself, but not to the breaking point. I will push myself, but not lose sight of who I am. I will reach as far as possible, but always come back home.

During yoga, I expanded my lungs and extended my arms and stretched my muscles, but then I relaxed into child’s pose.

Tonight, I will write and work and take care of my home, but when I get tired, I will sleep and leave the rest for tomorrow.

Tomorrow, I will give my all to my students during class, but I will sit and eat chocolate for five minutes during my conference period before I check email and grade papers.

And this week, when the rain keeps falling on Houston, I will donate money, send healing thoughts, and welcome with open arms any displaced children who arrive at my school. And I will hope that the people of Texas have the strength to bounce back from this.

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Note: Hurricane Harvey is no joke. The damage is devastating, and it is far from over. If you want to help, here is a list of reputable organizations accepting donations.

Posted in Life, Poetry

Get a Cat (or Don’t)

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Cats are such a joy.

Usually.

On one hand, they’re adorable.

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* Love *

And they provide hours of entertainment both in the form of comedy…

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“Mama, I ate ALL the catnip!”

…and drama.

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The Six Stages of a Relationship

But they can also be needy…

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“Could you bring me a beer?”

…and creepy…

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She seems to be waiting for something to come out from under the couch. (!!!)

…and owning a cat often means waking up to this:

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“Good morning. I’ve been grooming your hair while you sleep.”

It’s a tough choice.

Maybe this poem, first published by the Poetry Society of Texas in A Book of the Year 2016, will help you decide if you need a cat. (Or not.)

Get a Cat (or Don’t)
* a series of haiku *

Why you should get a
cat: Explanation for all
those mid-night noises.

Why you shouldn’t get
a cat: The increased number
of mid-night noises.

When the cat doesn’t
help: You hear a noise… the cat’s
sleeping beside you.

When the cat makes it
worse: You hear nothing… the cat
hisses anyway.

Worst possible case:
There is a ghost… the cat likes
it better than you.

What should you do? Get
rid of the cat—problem solved.
Wait… what was that noise?

© Carie Juettner
First place in the Poetry Society of Texas Fill in the Blanks Award, 2015

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