I am taking my time. This is something new for me because I operate at high-speed, my Type A personality functioning best with lists, schedules, and immediacy. I return emails promptly, phone calls a.s.a.p. and strive to fix all problems with ingenious solutions. Breathing deeply is a struggle for me and sitting to relax usually results in immediate sleep because when my motor slows down, it just stops.
Recently however, I have come to a realization. Most situations are not emergencies. Most questions do not require immediate answers and most importantly, time is precious. So, I am taking my time. I am training myself to breathe first, listen more carefully and ponder more often. I have not come to this conclusion alone. I have had many mentors along the way both virtual and those in my real life. The books I read keep me focused on the importance of taking each moment as a special gift.
So if I take a little long to make a decision, to respond to an email, to text back and answer or to return a phone call, you now know why. I am taking my time.
It is amazing what a little breath can do to quite a heartbeat, improve vision, sharpen hearing and to enhance perspective.
Ah, the quick write assignment. I would say it fits into my schedule, but it is Friday and the assignment was posted on Tuesday, school work trumps again. The assignment is to write about favorite place, so here goes:
I am lucky because one of my favorite places just happens to be minutes from my house and the place I go to most days. It is Topanga Canyon, the little mountain community where I have spent the last 18 years, but really had traveled to for years before that.
I began going through Topanga on my way to the beach so summer memories are some of my favorite. Then, in my late teens and early adult years, I frequented The Corral to hear music and enjoy the hippie days made famous in the Canyon. I had friends up in the Canyon and since I’ve been part of the community via the school, have made some of my closest friends in those who make the Canyon their home.
It is hard to imagine that a 7 mile drive from home can transport me to a place filled with the promise of calm, tranquility and scent of sage and lavender. Topanga is that place. It is quiet unless you consider the bird’s chirps disruptive. There are often times when my students and I take a listening walk, picking out sounds like the wind rustling through the sycamore trees, a jet flying high overhead, children’s shouts on the playground and dogs barking. Being able to really hear these sounds and the infusion of quiet is the gift of the mountains.
The colors change with the seasons though there are more shades of green that one can imagine. Flowers poke out with poppy orange, sage silver and soothing lavender bringing bursts of color infusing the green. The shadows move about during the day highlighting different corners of the canyon and the sun’s rays catch the water sparkling in the creek, of dripping down a granite boulder.
Today I noticed the smell of pine wafting up the stairs as we returned from a trip to the library. I had a surge of memories from Yosemite, the Sierras and Yellowstone, that smell reminded me of so many camping trips, waking in the morning to the pines and sitting around a campfire at night surrounded by a circle of trees. There are other smells traveling through the Canyon, but besides the trees, my favorite is the hint of the ocean that travels up the “S” curves towards the center of the town. Knowing that the ocean lies a meer 10 minutes west is a comforting thought. Where else can you go that offers the best of these worlds?
The feeling of peace comes with the breeze, the mist in the morning, the sage scented hills and the quiet. It is said that there exists a spirituality in the mountains, the Tongva tribe of Native Americans lived in the Canyon for years before being relocated by the Spanish to the San Fernando Mission. The artifacts and burial grounds provide a spiritual undertone that I feel there. Meditation comes easily there and many of my good writing ideas pop into my head on my short morning commute.
Topanga is the place I feel is as close to home as I can imagine.
Last night my dear friend Danielle and I trekked out to Pasadena to the new KPCC building. We went to hear readings and musings on the book Mom, the latest StoryCorps book introduced by Dave Isay. The lovely Crawford Family Forum was the perfect venue to appreciate the stories told and recorded by StoryCorps. It was so wonderful to listen, with no obligations, or expectations; nothing required. It was a privilege to meet Rueben Martinez of Libreria Martinez Books & Art Gallery-a literacy advocate and MacArthur Fellow, who was selling the books for signing. In fact, Dave Isay is also a MacArthur Fellow-which put us, as, as Bill Davis president of Southern California Public Radio said: “In the company of two geniuses.”
It was an honor to shake the hands and in the case of Rueben, to get a big hug, by three men so intent on preserving oral histories and the stories of common people, who in reality are not always so common. What a fantastic project StoryCorps is. To give people the opportunity to listen to the story of a relative or close friend and have it recorded for posterity. The story-teller has the opportunity to be heard, to have someone they care about, truly listen to their story, without judgment, in the privacy of the recording booth. We all deserve to be heard and we all must take the time to listen to others, face to face. It is through listening that we learn, we appreciate and we grow.
Listening is a common thread in my life lately. Having gone through the Council training of the Ojai Foundation, and practicing listening with the children in my kindergarten, I find myself slowing down and feeling the calm of uninterrupted listening, of making eye contact, of not formulating an answer immediately, but letting the words sink in. The words reside in a spiral in my mind and I can close my eyes, patiently letting the words into my soul, the stories melding and becoming a part of me.
I believe my kindergarten children need the chance to do their own StoryCorps project. They are often not given credit for their ability to come up with insightful questions and their own curiosity leads them to question things we might otherwise miss. These children are our future, and we must give them the opportunity to have the kind of special contact a true, intimate interview can provide.
They are other people’s children, yet they feel so much like my own for I spend the better part of each day with these little ones, caring for them and about them, dedicated to their growth and development, in fact, we spend so much time together that we think of each other when, bringing each other small gifts of appreciation; pictures, pencils, books and cards upon return. They are “my kids,” our days with lessons in the academics, life, world of arts and an education in manners and behavior top the list. They are learning to say, “please”, “thank you”, “excuse me”, and “may I please”, to earn the prize of a fancy tea party, parents invited. These children care about each other and are in this for a team win, everyone succeeding together because help is given freely and no one falls through the cracks in this room because there is always someone there to catch you. We are all practiced catchers and we all take turns falling.
These children are wise beyond their years and their ears are fine-tuned to the nuances of the adult conversations they silently hear, taking everything in, not always know how to process it so it emerges during group discussions, at unexpected times, during a vocabulary lesson, example definitions. I find out more than I sometimes want to know, about their worries, their fears, and their strong feelings.
Some of these little ones have power at home, demanding attention, voices loud, tantrums forthcoming, while others slink into the crevices of family, observing, while waiting for their turn. Some are parents to their siblings while others live alone in adult worlds, taking on the responsibility of carrying part of the burdens housed in their family
Most of the children are happy, regardless of circumstances, because in this place, the place they live for six hours a day, five days a week, they are members of a bigger family and the communal aspect provides enough for all. There are enough toys, enough crayons, enough pencils, enough friends and enough time, their pride growing daily as they become more accomplished and learn to take pride in their own work, their own creations and their own ideas. “Our job is to come to school,” they say.
“Yes, so is mine.”
I have recently started having “play dates” with two of my mother’s friends. My mother passed away in October of 2008, but luckily for me, I inherited her two wonderful friends, Helen and Libby. These women (both in their 80s) have invited me to cultural events, movies, dinners and lunches and I always include them in our holiday dinners, continuing a tradition started years ago. I have friends of all ages, but these lovely women of my mother’s generation tell me stories of long ago and people from their past. They educate me about early Los Angeles and are more knowledgeable that I am about movies, theater and literature. So I am learning a lot by listening and enjoying experiencing time slowed down, time to sit and listen and time to talk about new subjects. I am making time to include visits in my schedule and my new women friends now join me when I volunteer monthly at a shelter in the city, which happens to be located right in the neighborhood where they spent their childhoods.
Sometimes things come full-circle and just work out. These evolving friendships stem from friendships that my mother (and father) enjoyed for years but I was determined not to lose touch with these women who meant so much to my mother and have been part of our family for so long. Sometimes a little effort goes a long way and the benefits for everyone are simple but special.
Think about someone you know, or have contact with and next time the opportunity presents itself, slow down enough to talk to, and most importantly, to listen to that person for a bit. The good feeling lasts longer than you would expect.