About Camille Byrne Sheppard

Mom, photographer, writer, jewelry artist, adventurer, student of life

Paris

The Hotel de Ville

A Tricolore thread winds through the weave of my life, and on the periphery of my awareness hangs Paris, a once possible alternate reality. Living there permanently was the dream I couldn’t quite pull off, but I’ve returned to visit time and time again. During the past few weeks however, Paris has held a different place in my mind and heart. This time, it’s not due to my familiarity with the city or that it still holds me under its spell. This time, since the November 13 bombings, Paris has held my attention with a special urgency.

I sat down to write tonight not to share stories and images recently collected while wandering through the Marais or in the Luxembourg gardens but because I have a burning concern and words that I’m not hearing spoken by the world’s most powerful leaders and I want to know why. It seems like simple logic to me.

I want to know why Obama isn’t saying, “There is no other issue but Climate Change. If we don’t take dramatic and urgent measures to address runaway CO2 emissions, nothing else matters. Nothing… period.” I want to hear him say, “If you care about immigration, refugees, guns, food, agriculture, health, gender and/or race issues, look deeper at climate change. Its all tied together in a big fat mess and we will never untangle it without addressing the climate.”

You will say, “He can’t say that. He has to be careful with his language. He has to be diplomatic. There are allies and coalitions of power that he’s working on subtly, out of our view.” I get it… He’s making deals. But what I also get is that there’s still only one issue. Climate Change trumps everything else, including the antics of the caricature pseudo-politician who goes by that name.

I also want to know why everyone who loves this big beautiful earth and all of its creatures isn’t having a fit right now. If you follow me elsewhere on social media, you might be tired of my fit, tired of me going on about the climate, tired of my posting petitions and begging you to sign them. I’m not going to pipe down about it. This is a big deal. I want you to join me. I want you to make a big deal out of it too. I want you to do whatever you think is your part to do so that we can enjoy this incredible place called earth a little longer.

I understand that it doesn’t seem like you can do anything about it, just you, personally. This thing is too big and too scary and there’s too little leadership. But that thinking only leads one way, to inaction.

We can change the direction of this runaway train. Each one of us can do something every day. At the very least we can lend our support, the very real and very powerful things we each have called attention and intention to the movement. We can start by asking ourselves every day, “Can I do this differently? Do I really need to fire up my car? Do I need to go on that business trip? Can we have this meeting via Skype?” If not, “is that because I can’t change the situation or because I don’t know how… yet?” But we can’t change it if walk around with our heads in the clouds because its too hard, or unpleasant or inconvenient to change our lives. We want someone else to lead. Well its too late. This is our planet and its changing so fast that within our lifetimes, and I’m 54, we won’t recognize it as the same place.

This week, record rainfall fell outside my window, again. This summer, it was record draught. The maritime Pacific Northwest is traditionally known for its green landscapes and gray skies, by relatively high precipitation, long, cool summers and somewhat mild winters. In places where high temperatures and draught already hold sway, and where flooding already threatens, exaggeration of these native conditions means unlivable conditions. Here in the PNW, we have no idea what that might be like. For us, climate change is causing inconveniences like no ski season last winter, and we can still pretend. But this week was different in Beijing, Norway and Cumbria. In Beijing, even breathing the air is dangerous. How is that even living? In Brazil, women in certain areas are being warned not to have babies because of the insect borne zika virus, which causes microcephaly (a neurological disorder that stunts the growth of the baby’s cranium) in developing fetuses. Warmer temperatures and frequent downpours speed up the breeding cycles of the insects, so during the summer months, they’re simply advising women not to conceive.

I’m writing tonight because I’m disturbed and I want to disturb your peace of mind too. I want to shake you up a bit. I want my friends and neighbors to get a little bit upset about this, because I am and I think you should be too.

Quai du Seine and Notre Dame

Its almost morning in Paris. If they haven’t been working all night, the delegates from hundreds of countries will soon reconvene for the last time. The talks end tomorrow and tomorrow is almost here. The agreement won’t be enough to turn back the tide, but it might be enough to gain a little time. Whatever the governments of the world decide, it will be up to each one us to hold them to it. What kind of a world do we want for our children and grandchildren and what are we willing to do for it?

The climate movement is gifted with talented artists from every discipline. They are poets and musicians and painters and performers. They are protestors and climate activists and they’re making art and making a ruckus in the streets of Paris. They’ve staged impromptu concerts and performances and built massive installations. Every day, I’m awed by the ingenuity and camaraderie I see via my screen. One might almost think its a festival, but the urgency and tension in the faces and air belie the seriousness of their endeavor. We all have something to offer this movement.

After dinner walk

As Paris awakens, I’m off to bed, but I hope that tomorrow I’ll awaken to a world united behind a common goal. Please join me.

 

Memorial Day

Flags

This morning I noticed that I felt a bit cranky while scrolling through Facebook posts about Memorial Day. I realized that I feel conflicted and struggle to come to terms with what this day and Veteran’s Day represent today. While I believe in honoring those who have died serving the cause of freedom in America, I have issues with continuing to glorify the culture of war proffered by the US Military and the Military-Industrial complex that surrounds both of these holidays.

As the daughter of a US Naval pilot, I grew up hearing stories about flying off of a carrier in the Pacific, both the mishaps and the triumphs. I was proud of my dad’s efforts, proud of his service in the Korean War and his continued service in the reserves. When he put on his uniform to go to Sand Point for monthly inspections, he had a glow about him that the four of us, his children, recognized. We wanted to be part of that glory. He let us help him shine his shoes and polish the patent leather brim of his hat. Finally, he stood at attention for our inspection before leaving. We took our jobs as the pre-inspection team seriously and noted specks of dust or an uneven shine on a shoe even if it was imaginary. When I was very young, it was with pride that I announced to my playmates, “My dad is away flying his airplane for the Navy.”

After he died, it turned out that I was the only one of his four adult children who fit his flight jacket. It hangs in my closet and I still wear it from time to time. I have no problem explaining the patches to boys and sometimes men who ask me about them. It’s a contradiction of which I’m well aware. I know that his time in the Navy was almost sacred. It was where he grew up and where he made his best friends. The Navy paid his way through college. All of this is part of my history, but I believe the time has come for humanity to stop glorifying war, to recognize that while we can hold our history sacred, we can no longer afford to use it as a model for the future.

How do we honor those who have died in the service of freedom while recognizing that their way of serving is no longer effective or even viable?

Personally, I no longer think that the military is an effective way to protect and defend our democracy. Personally, I think that the activists of our era are warriors; those who demonstrate in the streets carrying signs that say, “Black Lives Matter”, “Stop Keystone XL”, “Stop the TPP”, and “ShellNo”, those that demand the removal of big corporate money from politics, the kayaktivists and those who join hands with hundreds of others in and around Elliott Bay in Seattle to protest against Royal Dutch Shell (An Anglo–Dutch multinational oil and gas company headquartered in the Netherlands and incorporated in the United Kingdom) and its plan to drill in the American Arctic with our president’s blessing; these are our warriors for freedom today.

In order for our American Military to reclaim the glory of the past, I believe that it needs to become part of a different narrative: the narrative of serving freedom for humanity as a whole. I think that the glory days, when American servicemen and women abroad were seen as liberators and heroes could be reclaimed if we were to choose to redeploy the bulk of our fighting forces in a different role in areas of the world where they can make a difference fast. What if they were instead the “first responders” in the event of disaster?

The Israeli army and young Nepali survivors were effective relief operators in the early days after the recent earthquakes in Nepal. What if we turned our vast military resources toward the service of humanity? Its impossible for me to know or even imagine the impact that could have, but hard to deny that the special training and resources at the disposal of the US Armed Forces, if given the go ahead to make disaster zones top priority, couldn’t turn the tide of despair before it strikes.

We are all one human family on this threatened planet. On this Memorial Day, I don’t want to perpetuate the glorification of war but honor the value of service in the cause of freedom and look toward a future where this doesn’t mean war but honor and respect for differences in our fellow humans and respect and honor for the earth.

Stay at Home Mothering isn’t a Job or a Hobby

A number of years ago, I was so tormented by the labels Stay-at-home-mom and Housewife, that I created this blog. I originally called it, “What Do You Do? The Question That Makes Stay at Home Moms Squirm?” Under its banner, I verbally banged my head against the wall a lot, lamenting the invisibility I felt as a woman who had chosen to stay home with my children.

I felt like my value as a human being was simply less than those who earned a paycheck, and I knew I wasn’t alone in this perception. When meeting people who asked, “So what do you do for work?” I usually mumbled some kind of gibberish about wearing many hats and changed the topic as quickly as possible.

It bothered me so much that I spent a lot of time thinking about what we value in our culture and how we perceive value. As with everything, the issue can be traced back to the money. “Follow the money…” In our culture, sorry to say, money still equals power, visibility and value. Women who stay home with their children don’t earn a paycheck. This means that the voices of women who give up the paid work they once did to devote their lives to raising their children lose their place in line – in the line of whose voices we listen to as a society.

Recently, I noted a new round of the mommy wars; about how to best label the work of a stay at home mother. While the mommy wars are a complex issue, I maintain that if women who choose to stay home with their children were compensated in dollars for their work, (which of course will never happen) the hierarchy of value in our culture would shift. Often, women who complain about the work they do raising their children because they feel invisible and they want someone to notice they are putting in an inordinate amount of effort. I’m pretty sure that this is what’s behind the mommy wars. Women get competitive about what they do because they care so much about getting it right. Our culture doesn’t give them the credit they deserve for raising the next generation of humans who will actually one day take over leadership roles in the community.

Today, women continually need to justify their choices about anything, be it choosing to become a mother or not, choosing to stay home or go back to work and hire a nanny or find day care, as well as justify that the work they do is worth hiring the nanny or paying for the day care. It’s a no-win situation that results in many women feeling defensive about their choices. Women who have made different choices constitute threats to their shakily constructed internal justifications. We’re always thinking, “Wow, she’s managing this so much better than I am!” or “If I’d picked that school would my kid be learning faster?” or “Did I do something wrong or was I negligent in some way because my kid is the preschool bully?” Those are just a few of the many lines of thinking I can easily remember from when my children were young.

I remember the day when I vowed never to complain about my lot as a stay at home mother again. It wasn’t because I wasn’t often overwhelmed, overtired, underappreciated and probably underfed. It was because I overheard two women essentially one upping each other with complaints in the school office where all three of my children were enrolled. They each had three or four soccer practice schedules that they had to track. One had to spend a lot of time sitting with a child who struggled to read and the other had a child who got picked on in class. The homework was excessive. A husband always came home late. It felt impossible to get anything done but grocery shopping, dishes, laundry, cooking and driving. Nothing was ever finished. They agreed that if felt like an endless cycle.  As the conversation progressed, the women moved on to gossiping and complaining about other people and issues beyond the scope of their own families. I was so taken aback by this conversation that it forced me to start listening to myself.

I complained too. I complained to my husband when he came home from work. I complained to other moms. I complained to the checker at the grocery store. I wanted someone to hear me. I wanted someone to care that it took me until after noon to get dressed because one kid wet the bed and I needed to wash the sheets, another one was barfing, I had to make school lunches, the dog had escaped the back yard and barked at the mailman and I’d yet to eat a meal.

After overhearing the conversation in the office that day, I stopped complaining. I still felt the overwhelm and still felt invisible and that no one actually cared that I was overwhelmed, but I didn’t want to be a complainer and I didn’t want to spout negativity like I’d just witnessed. I wanted to learn to look at what I appreciated about what I had, not how hard my life was. My life with three young children felt hard. It was definitely harder than the job I had before my first child was born.

I hadn’t intended to stay at home with my children; I had intended to go back to work. But something strange happened. I fell in love. I fell head over heals in love with my daughter. I didn’t ask the question of whether or not the choice to be home with my children constituted a job/work or a hobby as the writers in xoJane, Salon, and the Daily Beast seem to be interested in discussing. Those are questions a head asks: Does exhibit A fit into category A or category B? It doesn’t really matter except as those two arenas are valued in our culture. We value work because work makes dollars. The question of whether or not to stay home with one’s children isn’t a head question; it’s a heart question. Some mothers know without a shadow of a doubt that their children will be happier and healthier if they spend a large chunk of the day with a loving child care person, be it a grandmother, nanny or other than with a mommy cranky about feeling isolated at home. Others are content and happy feeding and snuggling babies in pj’s for half the day, working through toddler tantrums, and helping sound out words in a picture book.

I think that women who stay at home with their children and call it a job do so because they need to feel better about calling what they do work (unpaid work) because it feels more valuable. After the birth of my first child, my heart responded to a different question than how to categorize the choice I was about to make. I wanted to be the one who was with my children when they learned to sit up or to read their first words and I wanted to be there for them when they fell off their bikes or got a bad grade on a spelling test.

I hated a lot about being a stay at home mom for a long time, but what I hated most was being invisible and having given up my financial independence, not getting up three or four times a night for years, staying up late waiting for teenagers, picking up dog poop out of the living room, showering every three days, or running to the grocery store after bedtime because there was no milk for breakfast.

Now that I only have one child left at home, and I’m transitioning to another era of life, I miss those days. Crazy as it may seem, I miss the intensity of digging in deeper to my well of personal resources than I ever thought possible in order to keep the peace in our house and my own peace of mind. It was hard work. It was not a job or a hobby. It was a vocation.

The word vocation derives from the latin verb vocare – to be called. Choosing to stay home and parent children is a calling. It’s unpaid work, but that is beside the point. As the article that started this current ruckus points out, its true, we all do unpaid work, but most of us don’t do exclusively unpaid work day and night. To do so requires a great deal of love. Few people would do the work of full time parenting just for the money. If they did do it just for the money they would do a poor job of parenting. The thing that allows one to truly parent is love. The work of vocations of all sorts is the work of love. The peace I finally came to regarding my own role as a stay at home mom was that it is actually more like art than many other occupation. Both artists and parents (including fathers) work for the love of what they are doing rather than for any guarantee.

I’m sure there are more articles out there by now, but the video and three articles below caught my attention. In none of these did anyone mention the word vocation or the work of vocations and I feel that that word is missing from this conversation. Whether a mother stays at home full time, works part time or even full time by choice or by necessity, she does what she thinks is best for her children and for herself, taking so many factors under consideration that to reduce the thing that stay at home moms do to boxes labeled job or hobby does moms everywhere a disservice.

Instead of finding ways to further exacerbate the mommy wars, isn’t it about time our culture found a way to include the expertise and experience of all the women who’ve devoted their lives to raising the next generation. These voices need to be heard in the larger cultural conversation at the highest levels regardless of how it worked best for them and for their families? Isn’t it about time that we listened to our mothers?

http://www.xojane.com/issues/being-a-stay-at-home-mom-is-not-a-job

http://www.salon.com/2015/03/16/stay_at_home_motherhood_isnt_a_hobby/?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/03/17/yes-stay-at-home-mom-is-a-job-the-return-of-the-mommy-wars.html

http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/mom-op-ed-staying-at-home-is-not-job/video/gm-5388057

We Are All Scared Babies

SB ChurchAfter writing in my journal this morning about how it seems as though the entire human race is freaking out, I opened my computer thinking I should write about this for my blog. As usual, I had about fifteen tabs open, but on the screen in front of me, I saw the following questions: “How will climate change affect different species?” and “Will organisms be able to adapt quickly enough in a rapidly changing environment?” (http://www.calacademy.org/library-of-life)

The dots between these questions and what I had been writing about earlier connected and formed a solid bridge. Aren’t these the big questions that human beings need to ask themselves right now? Take out the word climate in the first one and change species to people. “How will change affect different people?” and the second, “Will human beings be able to adapt quickly enough in a rapidly changing environment?”

It’s a known fact that human beings don’t like change. Some of us like it better than others and say that we like it… I’m in that camp, but what I mean really is that I like variety, because the truth is, I’m not capable of conceiving of my life as my own without its familiar context, like the color of my skin or that I am female and speak English as my native language and was born in North America… to say nothing of my education, age, religion (or lack thereof) or family.

I’m not referring to environment in the specific sense of the natural world here, but the environment as in the place we each spend our lives, whether its in high rise in a city or on a mountain in the middle of the wilderness. But the truth is, our environments are changing faster than we are comfortable adapting and so we’re all freaking out and blaming each other.

Maybe the only thing human beings are capable of doing to address this mess right now is to actually be honest about the fear that we are all feeling when we look around at the state of chaos on the planet and in the communities we call home.

Some of us only have to look as far as an empty shelf in the corner of a hut where there is nothing to feed our hungry children to know fear. Some feel threatened walking through their neighborhood because of the color of their skin. Some go to bed at night praying that they will wake up in the morning; that their home will be spared a direct hit by a flying exploding object because of their religion or ethnicity. Some hope that an unemployed spouse won’t come home drunk and beat them up yet again. Some watch incoming storms and wonder, will this one be the one that washes the land my hut has stood on for generations into the sea?

We think we need to stop the change. The urgency to “Do something about it!” seems to scream from every headline. And perhaps there are things we can do to actually slow down some of the changes. But I think the larger truth, that things are irrevocably changing, is demanding of us humans that we adapt.

What does it mean to adapt? To accept that the world is going to shit, buy a rifle and hole up in my house? Well, that’s one way to think about it, but really, doesn’t it mean that I have to change, and if I just go buy a rifle and hole up in my basement with my art supplies and books, I’m not changing. We humans simply don’t do this change thing very gracefully.

The strange thing is, that ever since the dawn of our species, we’ve had to change to survive. Whether you believe that we started out in the Garden of Eden wearing leaves and eating forbidden apples, or that we evolved from the great apes or chimpanzees somewhere in Africa, it doesn’t matter. In order to survive on Planet Earth, as the earth has changed, as the conditions in the environment have changed, humans have had to adapt. I’d like to think that we’re just having a giant collective temper tantrum because we are actually starting to recognize the imperative to live differently, like a baby does every time they are about to make one of those giant steps in growth, like sitting up, crawling, or walking. Each one of these is marked by a period of frustration involving, crying, thrashing, and all manner of unpleasant behavior that makes the parents think the child has suddenly become possessed. Then its over until the next developmental milestone approaches.

Perhaps we think we have more at stake this time; that we are mature and have created the greatest civilization in history and therefore only need to protect it. But that’s a pretty arrogant idea, and if we go back through history, we’ll quickly discover that there were other civilizations that thought they had achieved that status as well. Unfortunately, they’re not around to warn us that this arrogance only leads in one direction – the demise of said ultimate human civilization.

Unless we can, as a whole, develop a little cultural amnesia or humility, and simply look around and see what is asked of each of us today, right now, and what it will take to respond courageously to what is asked, it seems like we’re in for the ride of our lives. I do hope that somewhere along the way, we can begin to recognize each other as fellow travelers on a journey, not as white or black, Muslim, Christian or Pagan, man or woman, gay or straight, wealthy or impoverished, educated or not, just human.

How will we do this? Maybe the only way is through seeing each other’s suffering. We all suffer and we tend to be able to see each other’s suffering and respond to that. I’m getting over my head here, but perhaps if we can somehow come to understand that the collective fear of the human race is simply another form of suffering, we’ll survive this ride and come out better on the other side.

I have my opinions about certain elements of government and society that are making this whole mess worse right now, but behind those factions are bunch of scared babies, just like the rest of us. So ‘fess up scared babies… lets do it differently. I’m scared too.

This piece was inspired by a blog post written by Austin Kleon, the above referenced questions on the website of the California Academy of Sciences and a comment made by Theo Nestor in a writing class that we should write about the things that we spend a lot of time thinking about whether we believe we have the authority to do so or not.

Love the Life You Lead. Fall 2013 DAY EIGHT. Camille Dohrn

This is a piece I wrote last fall for what I thought was a Facebook page only. I found it tonight purely by accident. Writing it was a very difficult thing at that time. In rereading this tonight, I see how it was also instrumental in a healing process that means looking “death” or any (significant) loss, straight on and refusing to give it the power to stop me from living.

LTLYL...Love the life you lead

“What is the nature of my conversation with death?”I’ve ruminated on this question numerous times over the last four years while struggling with a string of deaths and losses. I’ve come to believe that its a question not to be answered but to ask, and to let it inform one’s life.

Love the Life You Lead. Fall 2013
DAY EIGHT. Camille Dohrn

The first time death came along and knocked me to my knees, I was 28. My father died suddenly while I was far away, on a bicycle in France. Life as I knew it seemed to swirl around me, all the familiar patterns morphing and changing until I didn’t recognize it any more. It was still there, but it seemed unfamiliar. I didn’t know my place in it anymore. I felt like I was outside, looking in, wondering what the rules of the game were. It didn’t occur…

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Open Letter to College Admissions Departments

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” — Ken Robinson

I just returned from a week of touring colleges with my youngest daughter. Its been a few years since the last go round and while it seems the world is changing faster than ever, not much has changed about the tours and the information sessions since I first did this six years ago. The students who lead the tours are poised and charismatic, they have impressive memories and long lists of achievements to their credit. The admissions counselors give pretty much the same spiel with different sets of statistics as are relevant to the institution. They want us, the parents and prospective students sitting in front of them, to know that their student body is full of confident creative leaders who will change the world. They tell us that they choose students who by the age of 17, have demonstrated that they are this type of person. From one college admissions counselor I heard, “We’re looking for students who, when you read their application, you think, “When did he/she have time to sleep?”

My oldest daughter tried that routine. She fell asleep on a Friday afternoon while driving home from a swim meet because she was trying to live on about five hours of sleep a night. She was lucky and only hit a parked car a few blocks from home, but it was a good lesson that sleep has to trump “activities” or “bad things” happen.

When we, the adults, send the message to the next generation that the way they will succeed in life is to fill their lives with so much activity that they don’t have time to sleep, we send a very dangerous message. I’m not talking simply about falling asleep while driving, although that’s a pretty quick way to eliminate a creative mind. What I’m talking about is that if we take the brightest of our children, the ones who are already inclined to push their minds beyond the limits of what they already know, and we teach them to numb their creativity with incessant doing, their minds will not be open to the wildly creative ideas which we desperately need to solve the problems of a world at a tipping point in many arenas.

Wildly creative ideas do not happen when our brains are working overtime on multiple projects which are all directed at some goal we are working toward. Wildly creative ideas “happen”. They arrive unbidden when our minds are meandering in the garden inspecting the peony buds, or wondering when the leaves on the Japanese maple, which are indeed apricot colored as they begin to unfurl, change to the remembered bronze of their maturity.

Sometimes they descend upon us from the shower nozzle, or in a cascade of cherry blossoms blown from a nearby tree. Flashes of brilliance happen when we’re standing still. Perhaps we’re staring at the sky after watching a pair of young eagles seemingly tumble from a nearby tree, looking for sure as though they’re about to crash into the surface of the lake, cavorting like a couple of preteen boys wrestling over some random object, completely unaware of their environment. Transfixed, we marvel as they narrowly avoid disaster and somehow disentangle themselves just in time, rising above the level of the highest trees before we can catch our breath.

This is when the ideas “happen”, not when a student is blinded by all-nighters and dosed up on caffeine and/or Aderall which may or may not have been prescribed for them. This so that they can eek a little more focus out of their overly focused minds… So that they can get a little bit higher score on a standardized test, because they’ve been told that that’s what its going to take to get into the colleges they most want to attend.

While my oldest daughter was swimming in college, a former teammate of hers posted a world record at the world championships in a fancy racing suit. Shortly afterward, the powers that be of the swimming world banned that type of suit. Four years later her record still stands, as do a host of others from that time period. The style of suit literally allowed the athletes to swim faster than they could have without them.

I’ve heard reports from my college kids about the widespread use of Aderall before tests. I now hear the same from my high school junior. In general the students they’re referring to do not have Aderall prescriptions. They simply want the improved focus reportedly offered by the drug in order to rack up higher scores where they think they need them. The drugs are simply an external aid allowing them to achieve at a higher level than they could have without, like a now banned high tech swim suit, or the performance enhancing drugs that have spelled the downfall of high profile athletes.

If, dear college admissions staff, you take those SAT test scores and post them all over the internet, or tout them to prospective applicants, so that anyone who looks at your website sees that your average SAT Math scores range up to 760, there’s no way of arguing that this doesn’t promote an environment excessively focused on achievement as opposed to creativity.

We parents and prospective students need to hear the admissions counselors leading those information sessions say:

“We’re looking for well-rounded students who know how to think creatively and demonstrate that they have the maturity and resilience to handle setbacks; who get a lousy grade every once in a while and bounce back from it.”

“We’re looking for students who excel in the classes where they have a high aptitude and manage well in the classes where they may not be so gifted.”

“We’re looking for students who’ve had time in their lives for friends and family, not students who’ve received letters in several varsity sports, had part time jobs and volunteer jobs, been invited to join multiple different honors societies, are student body president and valedictorian.”

What message would it send if you said:

“We want to read essays about babysitting and mowing the lawn and family dinners. We want to read about the favorite book you’ve read 12 times or growing a vegetable garden or fighting with your brothers. We want to read about how much you hated folding the laundry and the creative ways you got out of it. We want to know what you haven’t done yet that gets you out of bed in the morning. We want to know what you’ve always dreamed of, or are deathly afraid of, or afraid to hope for, because then we know who you really are.”

Or if you said:

“If you have too many activities, we will throw your application in the trash because that means you didn’t take the time to lay in the grass and dream, to imagine a different kind of world and how you might play a part in creating that dream.”

Because we need a different kind of world right now and we need it fast…

The students who will graduate high school in 2015 can have a different kind of experience if you decide to do it differently.

The institutions of higher learning hold enormous power. By changing your expectations, you can ask our children to show you who they are, not what they have done.

You must start asking your applicants to share with you their dreams rather than list their achievements. Ask them to finish the question, “what if…?” and then answer it with whatever they can dream up. Challenge them to ask a question you haven’t been asked and don’t know the answer to…

Asking students to demonstrate their literacy is expected before they attend college, what about asking them to share their creative ideas?

Thank you for listening.

P.S. My children (young adults) have been involved with some wildly creative shenanigans in college. I’m not making the point that colleges are inhabited by robotic automatons, simply that the message I hear from admissions staff is by and large one that promotes over achievement and over doing, that the application process itself further emphasizes those values, and that in general, the process that faces a 17 year old asks them to present a resume that provides little room for creative exploration, and that its past time for this to change.

Subversive Meditating

blog-1True confession: I have a checkered track record with meditation. I started meditating a long time ago when I went to visit a good friend who had been through a number of consecutive personal ordeals and swore she had survived by meditating. We sat and listened to a guided meditation for about 45 minutes every day while I was there. I thoroughly enjoyed it. As far as I could tell, you just space out and keep coming back when the guy reminds you to. Back home, I decided to look into it a little deeper, “Maybe I should actually learn how to do this meditation thing for real.”

That was when the trouble began… “Am I supposed to close my eyes or keep them open? Hands on my knees or in my lap? Cross legged on a cushion or in a chair? What if you can’t cross your legs and sit for that long? What constitutes thinking, anyway? Is it thinking if I listen to the birds sing? Is it thinking if I watch the images in my mind? Are images thoughts? Oh god, I totally suck at this! How can anyone stop thinking???”.

I decided that I was not at all cut out for this meditation thing and that it was indeed a danger to my mental health. Well, I didn’t actually quit completely because I kept making secret little forays into meditating from different angles, at times practicing for months before stopping again. I finally told myself that my daily writing practice was a mindfulness practice and that was just going to be my form of meditation.

But I kept thinking that I should be sitting on the floor saying a mantra. Some sneaky gremlin had me convinced that because I was such a lousy meditator, I was actually only a pseudo spiritual person because any truly spiritual person wouldn’t be as bad at meditation as I was. It was supposed to be good for me dammit! Just like the vitamins on the window sill in the kitchen and the soy milk that was in my fridge which I never really liked. This went on for years…

This past weekend, after listening to yet another podcast where the interviewee talked about their meditation practice, I said “ok, fine, 10 minutes, starting tomorrow”, and I set a reminder alarm on my phone for every day into infinity and beyond.

Fortunately for me, tomorrow found me sitting on a ferry with nothing but reading material and my journal to distract me. I had no excuse. So I meditated… no big deal.

Day 2: I was all bunched up over something that had happened the night before that I needed to walk off, so out the window went the meditation plan. After a couple blocks, I realized that I could not solve the problem and it was tormenting me. “Damn, I should have sat my butt on the floor instead of going for a walk.” As quickly as that thought appeared in my overly anxious brain, I thought of the phone in my pocket and did a search for walking meditations. Ha, found! Thank you iTunes. “I am so clever…”

Within a few minutes I was breathing again. It was quite short so I listened to another one. And another…  On I walked, listening and breathing, taking in the drippy new morning around me, letting go, letting go, letting go. 30 minutes later, I stuck my headphones in my pocket, and listened to the symphony of birdsong while the light rain dampened my face for the remainder of my walk.

Yesterday was the real test. No excuses… I made my 2/3 decaf, 1/3 caf latte and walked outside onto the porch. “I’ll meditate after this…” and then, “I wonder if there’s such a thing as a coffee drinking meditation?” A totally subversive little voice answered me, “Why not?”

“Because coffee and meditation do NOT go together!”

“Says who?”

I drink coffee not for the buzz of the caffeine, but because the richness of the smell lures me, the creamy bitterness holds my attention, the feel of the softly rounded ceramic warms my hands, and the embrace of ease and luxury it offers is a beautiful way to begin the day. Its a tiny little indulgence just for me.

I sat down on the porch with the sun on my face and closed my eyes. My meditation lasted as long as the coffee. I sipped it. I breathed. I listened to the birds. I told my body that I was listening and I told my mind I was listening and if they had anything they needed to let me know about it was welcome. Thought amnesty… “olly olly oxen free”, originally, “all ye, all ye, all come free.” I giggled as I thought these words and then I listened again… It was quiet. My inner critic gremlins wouldn’t believe it. They started making noises. “You don’t have a quiet mind”. “I know, you’re right, I don’t, but at the moment its quiet so shut up.” And I waited for the noise to begin. The only noise was my breathing and the birds singing. A few times I wondered if listening to the birds sing constituted thinking, but I decided I didn’t care and I didn’t care if anyone else cared and returned to simply listening and breathing and feeling the sun on my face. Then the coffee was gone and the rain began.

What I may finally have learned was that I don’t need another “should” that my oh so nasty inner critic can abuse me with. It doesn’t need more ammunition. I realized that I had tricked it and that I can do it again by simply asking myself what I really want to do and then do it in a meditative way. Framed in this manner, meditation becomes a subversive act, and that is more powerful than anything my internal critic can throw at me.

My ten minutes (or however long it is), is time stolen from the press of responsibilities, the demands of home, dogs, family, the needs of the hundreds of people whose urgent emails fill my inbox, stealing time, for me, all for me… And that is radical!