Monday, March 1, 2021

My Gray Duvet

It was fall in New Mexico. I pushed my bed against the wall and folded it back to its futon status. It was a symbol to myself that I wouldn't be sharing it with anyone. No one except my "Kwala" bear-- a stained relic of my childhood that still made its innocent jingle and had the important job of keeping my arms at a specific length from my chest to keep my shoulder in a good position every night. A job that had previously been held by a man's arm. 

My not-so new but happily re-formed bed was donned with a bright orange bed sheet with a 2" rip near the corner. On top of the bright orange, in a subtle contrast that brought me the most comfort, was my gray duvet. 

I can only imagine the life this duvet had before I found it. I nabbed it from a free pile at my second or third residential education job. It was heaped among things some other twenty-something didn't bother to pack or put away as their contract came to an end the summer before. In my care, my new duvet (which I used as a sheet) would keep me warm during the snowiest winters I had experienced (in Southern California no less!). Eventually it would act as just one more layer between cotton and quilts and wool in a 5th wheel trailer in a forest in the mountains under which my fiance and I would lie listening to the wind howl just a few feet from our faces. 

My gray duvet made it out of California, back to Texas and into the uhall with all my things, to my new home in sunny New Mexico. The fiance made it there, too, but he didn't stay for long. Not like my gray duvet. I can't explain the comfort I got from the dull gray sheets, or the solid softness they provided. Or the simpleness of the big round clear buttons on one side, designed to hold something inside. But it would never reach that fate, at least not with me. 

My gray duvet met a new fiance. It kept his thin body warm one week before he passed away. 

My bed went back to the wall, folded, in protest of love, of sharing and of openness. I wiped the tears of vulnerability upon my gray duvet, temporarily darkening its fibers.

I don't remember packing my gray duvet in Texas to bring to New Mexico. I don't remember packing a lot of things from my happy little house to move up to Taos. But it was at this new house that it met its fate. 

I purchased my first bed. I got engaged again. I got a puppy. A tear in my gray duvet kept growing until one day, I caught my toe on the rip and nearly tripped. I removed my gray duvet from my new bed, and gave it to the dogs. 

It wasn't over though. For months, they played tug of war with my gray duvet. Strings, patches, and pieces littered the house in corners, on tables, in dog beds, or just hanging out of the mouth of a dog or two. 

I guess eventually I picked all those pieces up, and my memory of the gray duvet faded away. 

I'm now writing this under a white duvet. It's serving its purpose, holding a synthetic comforter within its sheets. It's stained with pen marks, a drop of ice cream, and some blood from my dog getting caught on barbed wire. It keeps his white hair off my gray sheets. 

My bed is pushed up against the wall. Kwala sits beside me, her nose chewed off years ago by my new pup. 

Saturday, January 30, 2021

The Case for Love

 I. Love. Valentines Day. 

It has always been my favorite holiday. 

I can vividly imagine the colors of construction paper used to make valentines- starchy red, light pink (dark pink if you have the fancy stuff), and that creamy white. I use to use paper doileys. 

I had a book about valentines that I would sit on the floor of my room in early February and read over and over again. 

I'm positive it was one of these or a few of them. 

Upon reflection, I wasn't a particularly cute child. I was creative, and weird. And probably in my head a lot. I had friends at school but not a ton of them. I think my love for valentines started in Elementary school. Yeah, eating red-iced cookies and getting to have a party in the middle of February was fun, but what stood out to me was the yearly excitement of creating my own box, decorating it however I wanted, and receiving a note from every single kid in my class. AND getting to pick out my FAVORITE pre-printed cardstock valentine pun from the grocery store to give to my big crush. Nevermind that he didn't talk to me. Or that 20 years later he would send me an unsolicited dick pic, without having spoken to me within that time period. I can only imagine that he could tell from the extra hearts I wrote on his valentines in 2nd and 4th grade that he was my favorite, and that when lonliness struck decades later, I was easy prey? But that's not the point of this post. 

It’s an interesting tradition to once a year require students to just “be nice” to all the other students. And perhaps knowing that it’s a lot to ask of young children, niceness is reduced to punny greetings on a folded piece of paper. And if you’re lucky, the piece of paper comes with a tasteless heart-shaped red lollipop with white ink around it that dissolves the moment it hits your tongue- which is about 5 seconds after most kids open their valentines box. I however, savored my valentines. I would wait until I got home and read each one, noting the way they signed their name and if they wrote anything extra.

I remember being disappointed when the box of valentines tradition didn't continue through middle school. Most years since then, I have still written, designed, created or at least purchased and signed a little valentine for friends and lovers. Because I LOVE Valentines Day. 

Valentines Day gets a bad rap. It's like if Halloween was reduced to a holiday where you wear masks and eat candy. I admit that as a child that was the extent of Halloween for me, but as I got older, I learned about the historical importance around All Hallows Eve and why that time of year is significant for spirits. So Halloween is the holiday in which we honor and celebrate the dead. (And kids dress up in costumes and eat candy). In contrast, Valentines Day is the day we celebrate love. What other holiday is given to celebrate an emotion? And what emotion is more powerful than LOVE

You can feel love. You can love a color or a song. You can be in love. You can adore, like, have passion for. If you love someone very much you can enter into an intimate relationship with them, which is loving someone so much that you trust them to be vulnerable around them. Not everyone will love that deep. Not everyone will have their heart broken. Not everyone will be married for 50 years or more. But every single person on this earth today and that has been on this earth in the past can love. And I think that's lovely. 

Whether you love your car or your cat. That feeling that wells up inside of you of pride and agony when your beloved parents drop you off at college and make your bed and then get in the car and drive away, and you wonder if you'll ever see them again but feel grateful that you have them in your life and that thy brought you so far and taught you so much- that's love. I'm told that you can feel the "heart strings" taking root when holding your child for the first time-- that's love. Crying as your best friend kisses the man she wants to spend the rest of her life with and knowing she's going to be treated well and supported-- that's love

It doesn't matter what langugae you speak, although the words for love in different language are impressively unique. On the Acoma Pueblo, I was taught that their word for love feels deeper then ours. It's not "just a feeling" but a description of the warm bubbles or butterflies that well up from your stomach and attempt to stop your heart. 

So, maybe in 2021 this day has been resigned to be a corporate holiday about candy and expensive greeting cards. But I say we take it back. This year more than ever, we need to celebrate LOVE. Even if it's just for one day. It doesn't matter if you're married, gay, asexual or single. I've had highschool boyfriends cheat on me and a fiance that passed away less than three weeks before we hoped to get married, and you know what got me through it? Love. A song I loved. a meal I loved. friends. Clouds. My immense love of the sky and the changing weather and the warming spring. I'm capable of feeling it because I am capabale of LOVE and so are you. 

So whether you are IN love or out of it, celebrate the face that you CAN love, you HAVE loved and you ARE loved. Even if it's just by your cat. 

Sunday, January 10, 2021

A Lesson

I have been struggling. I know I'm not alone. Living in a pandemic, with persistant social injustices, increasing environmental injustices, and a sudden lack of agreement on what TRUTH even is-- is... stressful. 

And like many I'm sure, my struggles have been layered. 

  • Tensions amongst those you live with who suddenly fill new roles for you, and expect you to fill new roles for them. 
  • Feeling like the world is spiraling out of control
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Constantly changing routines make it hard to keep habits
  • Things being cancelled or moved to an online platform that is confusing or not fulfilling

I'm going to get pretty personal here (something I default to but have lately been working hard to limit). 

I've tried a few things...
-busying myself to the point where procrastination isn't an option
-(re)subscribing to online therapy

For months I looked forward to the New Year, as if I expected the ball to drop and the bricks to lift off my shoulders. But here we are, 10 days in and as the last week passed by, I became more and more aware that the same habits were at play, and thus more frustrated at myself, and less productive, and then repeat. 

As I have done for the last several months, I looked forward to the weekend. I had a relaxing Friday night that I felt I didn't deserve (because of not checking off to-do list boxes during the week), and I committed to doing ALL the things I couldn't muster the motivation to do during the hours that someone might hold me accountable, during the freedom of the weekend. Particularly this one BIG project that I have had MONTHS to work on, but have only barely tapped into. For this big project, which was created from an idea that *I* pitched to a company across the pond that knew nothing about me, we have been meeting every other week to check in. Two weeks ago my world was turned on its head so I cancelled that meeting in anticipation that I would finally do the work in the coming weeks. 

So, Saturday morning I awoke and drove to meet my boss for my first ever cross country skiing experience! It was horrifying but awesome to try something new! I reaffirmed that I am not good with hills and that my boss is an excellent teacher. Then I went home to start my project. But instead I got distracted with doing the dishes, cooking dinner, feeding the chickens, and walking the dogs. Oh, and cleaning my room so that I could focus on my big project. 

So this morning I woke up and made coffee, and walked the dog, ready for my big day of projecting. Then I made breakfast. And then I did some research on what new coat I should buy. And then I dove into this book I've been wanting to read for months, but finally got the motivation to. 

And this book- Trauma Stewardship- that was recently championed by the principal at the school I work with... had some incredible insight into my struggles. The procrastination, the adding to-dos to the list that weren't necessary, the feelings- like I have the world on my shoulders and I must do everything always or the world will collapse, species will go extinct, the rainforest will get cut down, children wont go outside, and god forbid, my dogs wont get a walk. All of these are normal reactions given my history, my beliefs, my experiences, and the fact that we're in a pandemic. 

Now, since I had a big project to work on-- I didn't get to the next chapter about how to overcome those behaviors. But I did clean the chicken coop, take the dogs out to play (and clean up their play area), organize some things in my journal that I had been thinking about for days, sign up for a webinar about water in my state, take a survey about outdoor education, send cute pictures of my dogs to my mom, watch videos of my friends' kids play in the snow, take a shower, make an awesome egg salad sandwich, brew sun tea, wash dishes, grade all submitted assignments, send an email I've been planning for two months, do 5 pullups and chin ups, and watch a TedTalk about a business mogel in Babalyon and another about procrastination that wasn't as insightful as I had hoped. 

So all in all- it wasn't a bad Sunday. As I was cleaning the bathroom before coming to my room to settle into my project-doing headspace, I remembered in college when I asked my English teacher to assign me a fake essay so I would clean my bathroom-- because even then I realized that there's nothing like a deadline to accomplish anything else. So, for the record, I sat down at 9:00pm and opened my computer to send an email explaining that I couldn't make our normal time because I had neglected to inform them that I'm now teaching a class at that time (and deeply hoping that this would allow me to get another day, another week? to take advantage of all my clean rooms and get something done.). But when I opened the last email sent in 2020, it said, "no hurry. Let us know when you have something to share." And just like that, my deadline vanished (well, postponed). And just like that, instead of feeling this immense guilt for the one thing I didn't do, I feel sort of accomplished for all the things I did do. 
And just like that, I'm motivated to take the energy I was expecting to spend in the next few hours making something rushed look like it was well thought out, and instead
-Write this blog
- Reflect on today in my journal, and plan out my week (with imaginary deadlines?)
- Email my boss my plan for the week to hold myself accountable
-Get on to the next chapter about how to change my behaviors

For the last few years I have been hoping to write in my blog more regularly. This seems like a silly thing to write about, but here it is. The best thing that happened to me today (aside from my deadline vanishing) was reading about the rut I'm stuck in and realizing that I'm not the only one. So if sharing this makes you feel less alone, it's worth it. 

Now, close this window, get off facebook, and write your own blog. I expect to read it in 24 hours ;)

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Hindsight is 2020

Okay, I know everyone and their dog is using that title, so it's unoriginal, but if you don't, you're just an idiot, so, anyway: 

Obviously this was a fucking YEAR for everyone so rather than harp on some of the challenges, I just want to paint a better picture of what I'm doing and where I'm finding myself as this year comes to a close. (Note: I wrote most of this earlier in the month and some things have changed, but I haven't processed them yet, cause 2020)

I live in New Mexico. Not Arizona, or Colorado, although if you're reading this from Texas it's likely all the same to you. 
I just wrapped up a class on public lands and that's totally not a non-sequitur because if you live in Texas like I did for 18 years, then you may not realize just how amazing the world is outside of the state, especially in places like New Mexico which is over 40% public land. I appreciated thinking about public lands through the lens of equity and diversity...

So, I'm in New Mexico, in the mountains. I lived in ABQ for five years until two years ago when we ran away from the chaos and found ourselves establishing roots here. I wanted to write a blog about what I've learned in the two years since my co-workers said they didn't trust me, and my boss kicked me out of our staff housing because she didn't like my boyfriend.. but to be honest, I'm still processing all the shit that went down... and looking forward to connecting with some of the other folks I know that are still processing, too. Maybe 2021 is our year of reconnecting. 

Where I live has a lot of public land access. It's a little overwhelming. In the previous 5 years I spent living in NM, I really dug into the landscape and exploring one specific corner of the state. Not only is there an entire new set of trails up here, but entirely new ecosystems-- which is both exhilarating (because there's so much to learn) and exhausting (because I feel like a n00b). 

16 months ago we bought a house. I wrote a blog about it. It's been a journey, for sure. Other than the foam squares we put in the bedroom, (most of which have since been covered with cat snot, torn up by dog toenails or repurposed to another room of the house) we don't have any flooring in our unit. Just painted subfloor. There were five separate units but we turned one back into a garage, offering the cabinets from the kitchen to the chickens for nesting. It is currently filled with a miscellany of things including two motorcycles, a mechanism that throws clays for shooting at, and a fridge that somehow got unplugged before it got emptied that I hope will somehow spontaneously combust before I get around to the deed. 

I have felt extremely fortunate to have this house since the pandemic started, for a lot of reasons. One is the security and stability. Although the bank owns about 98% of it, it's been nice not to navigate the rent situation others have gone through. Secondly, is the ability to give. Since we have the space and the situation, we have been able to help those affected by Covid, in some ways. And third is the community. Since buying the house, we've been opening the units exclusively to our friends and people likeminded. We call it our "unintentional community", which currently consists of 5 dogs (ranging in age from 8 weeks to 3 years), 5 cats, 7 adults, 1.5 babies (one is on the way), about 45 hens and 7 roosters. Lastly, I guess I feel really blessed to live in a place that is infinitely beautiful, and challenging, with a cultural history I have barely scratched the surface of. 

I could go on about my house, especially since like most people, I have been spending a lot of time there this year... but for the sake of everyone else's privacy, I'll ramble about my employment. 

I have been incredibly fortunate to not only stay employed, but gain employment during this time. I was going to write a blog about how I achieved this until I realized the secret is "work hard, and accept insignificant amounts of money". Because this has been my foundational work ethic, this is not strange to me, but from talking to people versed in for-profit situations, apparently this isn't the ideal way to do things. BUT, on the other hand I look at people like my friend who reflected after the pandemic started that, "after this clears up, I would like to go into a career that I felt good about". The work I do doesn't only make me feel good, often it gives back to the world in a way. I have made it my business to seek payment for opportunities rather than pay for them. That's just how I roll. SO, what have I been up to this year? 

In January I started a new position at a new non-profit that did very similar things to my last job. After a few slow months of learning through a new community, I was eager for events to gain steam and programs to start rolling out. A week after they started, Covid cancelled everything. Like many, I spent a few months struggling to complete tasks while working from home, until June, when I was fortunate to begin in-person programs taking small groups of students hiking around the mountains. I am so fortunate (mentally, emotionally, and financially) that these programs continued through October!

My side-gig doing data entry for a food delivery business had been stalled since last Thanksgiving, but it turns out that a pandemic is a good time for food delivery, and we got some additional funding allowing me to earn a bit when I could get the hours in. We are expanding to Boulder next month and I am excited to continue this venture for a bit. 

My in-town role model hired me as a personal trainer! My first gig as such. Although with the pandemic we were teaching classes virtually, it was still a fun way to get into the business. I did get to teach a few classes in person out doors with a mask on in the grass 10 feet away, but as cases rose, that got shut down. Eventually that boss fired me for taking a similar gig and not knowing the small town backstory behind their feud. 
BUT in the meantime I pitched an idea for an app for aerialists to a company in German and now I'm their content designer. It's a lot of work and research but I'm hopeful for the outcome. I'm only about three bites into the elephant at the moment. 

During the year, I also worked for the Census for a bit, which was interesting insight into the absolute shit-show of a federal government organization that only runs every 10-years during a pandemic under the Trump Administration in the state of New Mexico in a town with very limited resources. I actually wrote to a couple of newspapers about how poorly the thing was run because I felt it would rival the headlines about the post office. I haven't heard the final numbers but two weeks before the census closed prematurely, only 30% of our town had filled out their survey, which isn't great for our future budget. Local stores were offering gift cards and free ice cream if you filled it out. 

Finally, through the first-mentioned job, I got a position as a PE teacher at a school I can ride my bike to. I got to spend a few weeks in person with students with masks on, reminding them to stay 6-feet away and doing a lot of unusual outdoor ed-based PE that they weren't used to. The rest of my time is spent designing screen-free outdoor activities that are delivered through Google Classroom. What a world we live in. 

Outside of my employment endeavors, which clearly kept me busy (along with care-taking the chickens, harvesting from the garden, and other house-related shenanigans) I managed to write an article with the Center for American Progress, and I'm a defendant in a case against Donald Trump and his attempt to roll back certain Clean Water Act standards that would affect watersheds here in New Mexico where I farm and recreate. My Bataan March was cancelled as was a trip to New Orleans for the Tennessee Williams Festival that in hindsight I couldn't have afforded. Instead, Duck (the dog) got lots of walks around the neighborhood. Perhaps my greatest accomplishment was rearranging my room and creating this almost-perfect corner of books and beauty. 

Like many others, I also experienced some loss this year. My inspiring grandmother Isabel passed away, as did my sweet friend, old co-worker and ex-roomate, Hannah. Both of their lives truly inspired me and I will keep them in my heart as we march into 2021. 

So-- here I am. Some hours, days and weeks of 2020 were certainly a struggle. But I'm here. At the dawn of a new decade-- (a New Age of Aquarius?). I think it's easy to look back at the last 12 months of cancellations and police brutality and unfair economics and feel sour-- but I am inspired by the people who turned out to protests with masks on, I am grateful for months at home to play with my dog and watch the flowers bloom, and I am hopeful that if nothing else, 2020 renewed my energy and reignited my anger.  Cause I (we) have some work to do in 2021. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Earth Day 2020- The 50th Birthday the Earth Needs

As an environmental educator, every day is Earth Day to me. 
I have really been struggling during the last month of self-isolation with the grief of not being able to share this beautiful spring with my regular afterschool kiddos, or the middle schoolers I had just gotten to know and planned the next six weeks of adventures with. This winter was especially challenging and I was greatly anticipating an active Spring. But one thing I have learned from studying and immersing myself in nature is how to adapt.  
If you think about it, we all know how to adapt. It may be a cause of anxiety for us as individuals in our current situation within our societies, but if you think about it from an evolutionary point of view, our ancestors were excellent at adapting. Or, if you really think about it, our ancestors may have merely had a deformity or mutation that happened to make them better at a specific situation than their peers, but that’s a great metaphor also. Anyway, the point is that everything around us in nature is here because it successfully adapted to environmental changes--and so can you. 
Look out the window at the closest tree. If it’s a cottonwood, it has a relatively low life span, about 100 years. If it’s a pinon, the state tree of New Mexico, it has a life span of about 600 years, which is similar for most pines. Think about what a world that tree has experienced. Although your tree doesn’t recognize time like we do, science has increasingly shown that trees perceive the world around them, sending chemical and other imperceptible signals to neighboring trees. Think about the droughts, floods or windstorms this tree has endured, and yet it is still standing. Nature shows resilience as well.

This year is the 50th anniversary of an annual event that celebrates this resilience and adaptability.  The first Earth Day took place in 1970, when senator Gaylord Nelson witnessed a massive oil spill and wanted to model an anti-pollution movement after the energetic anti-war movements.  
The first Earth Day, 20 million people (10% the US population at the time) took to the streets to demand clean water and clean air standards for our earth (and obviously, ourselves), and as a result the Environmental Protection Agency was created. Because of this movement of political unity, the National Environmental Education Act, Clean Water Act, and OSHA were created. 

It has been 50 years since that critical movement, and although Earth Day has been celebrated annually, and our environment has seen many successes, the EPA currently has the least amount of authority it has seen since its creation. What makes this Earth Day anniversary especially unique, though, is the fact that this Earth Day falls amidst a global pandemic., the prime authority non-profit to organize Earth Day events proclaims that this year’s Earth Day is “digital”. But before I unroll the incredible list of Earth-loving activities for you and your families to do while at home avoiding Covid-19, I want to point out the unexpected effects of the world slowing down.  
What an interesting gift for the Earth, for all the hustle and bustle of business as usual to slow to an unprecedented halt. With China’s strict stay-at-home policies, shutting down and slowing factories and businesses, The average number of "good quality air days" increased 21.5% in February, and graphic comparisons of nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide just one month apart show a drastic reduction in the hazardous substance. 
And while this is an incredibly stressful time for health care workers, it’s an incredible opportunity for scientists. 
Seismically, the Earth has calmed enough that trained researchers can feel the difference, and interested but untrained people can see the decrease in movement on a seismometer. “Right now, day time in Brussels resembles Christmas Day,” observed Thomas Lecocq, a seismologist at the Royal Observatory of Belgium. Other researches have noticed a decrease in noise level by as much as 30 decibels in usually-busy cities like New York, and a calming of underwater noise pollution in oceans. “We’re experiencing an unprecedented pause in ocean noise that probably hasn’t been experienced in decades,” observes marine ecologist Michelle Fournet.
And, as you may expect, wildlife is thriving as our species hunkers into our homes. Coyotes, wild boar and even peacocks have been spotted in areas that would otherwise be bustling with humans. Even zoo animals grieving the lack of visitors have had the unique opportunity to get to know other creatures, an experience that a dolphin and sloth seemed to enjoy at a zoo in Texas
(There is some fake and misleading news out there as well about sudden animal appearances. Also, as Outside Magazine pointed out, not all of our sudden isolation is good for wildlife).  
As much as I have enjoyed these strange stories, I recognize as one article pointed out, that “The respite for nature will be less important than what follows.” Although most of the following activities are not immediately earth-saving measures, they promise to encourage some reverence for our natural world, and inspire some small changes. Some may argue that the floating rock we live on deserves more than one day of honor, but Earth Day serves as a specific time to come together to celebrate, advocate, or just learn about the world around us. Whether you use the following resources on Earth Day, all of Earth Week, or allow them to inspire your actions every day of the year, it is my greatest hope

As our children grow up with the memory of this 50th anniversary of Earth Day celebrated in and around our homes in the midst of a pandemic, I hope that some of the resources below can remind us of the beauty, adaptability and resilience of nature.  

Local Earth Day Activities
Enjoy Earth from Home, and Share a Photo on FIT’s Facebook page
Statewide Idea- Plant a Sunflower!
Earth Day Livestream (April 22nd-24th featuring activists, performers, students, senators and more. 

Earth Day Events 
Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day and show your support for the environment with our limited-edition Earth Day 2020 sticker from The Sierra Club. 

At home Earth Day Activities (For now or Later)
Daily Outdoor Challenges by Pajarito Environmental Education Center 
Scan through 50 Years of Environmental Victories, in Photos

Take Action 
Get to know the Environmental representatives near you, and pledge to vote for Earth in your upcoming election. 

Friday, November 8, 2019

How a Day Camp Changed my Life

Yup. dis me. In Mime makeup. in 2011.
When I was eleven, and hyper focused on the dream of becoming an actress, which later evolved into a theater teacher, which fizzled out after not winning a scholarship to become a theater teacher... my mom sent my brother and I to Magic Camp. I had been to Dinosaur Camp, and writing camp, and acting camp, in which I played Lenny from Crimes of the Heart-- the peak of my child acting career, but Magic Camp was different. My first summer there, in just a two-week session, I learned how to polish a magic trick, was filmed doing magic for a news segment, learned how to project using my diaphragm, and learned the magic of perception. But even more important than that, I met some of the most amazing, inspiring characters that are still deeply influential in my life, and I knew I had to come back the next summer.
When I was twelve, I returned to the Performers Academy. I made more friends. I practiced performing, built an illusion, and learned pro-tips from magicians that were locally famous who talked to me at the age of twelve as if I were a peer.
At thirteen I became a CIT for magic camp, and learned that aside from performance-focused camps, they teach the magic of self confidence through a magic, juggling and puppetry curriculum. But the REAL magic, again, was the people. The real magic was the spine-tingling joy that I STILL feel when I hear Sousa's Washington Post march, which signified carnival day-- a day in which campers dressed however they wanted and spent the afternoon winning tickets and trying their skills at a variety of quality hand-crafted games. The REAL magic of magic camp was finding a place where I whole-heartedly BELONGED in a world where I felt like an outsider.

It has been twenty years since my first day at magic camp. In twenty years I have referenced the skills I've learned, both internal and external, from that experience almost every day. I have attended weddings of friends that I met at this little day camp when I was barely a teenager. From this one life experience I have an adopted-uncle, a second father, and a whole family of life-long friends. Because of this simple-seeming day camp, and all the passion and intention that went into it's development, I have earned several jobs, had a few magical relationships, and supported many camp friends through pursuit of atypical jobs.

At Magic Camp, I learned the beauty of empathy.
We practiced an all-inclusive model, never turning down a child who was interested in coming to camp, despite any diagnosis or ability they may have had. We had a "Director of Empathy" who spent at least half a day with a different kid building relationships and getting to know why they didn't want to do juggling that day.
We had campers with ADD, ADHD, bi-polar disorder and downs syndrome. We had counselors with those qualities as well. Gay, straight, bi, tall, black, Asian, overweight, speech-impediment, autistic... all together, old and young with one common goal- to learn magic. But the magic wasn't the slight of hand we were taught in magic class. The magic was the non-verbal nine-year-old teaching the autistic seven-year-old boy the magic trick she just learned. The magic was having a trick to show and an audience to listen.
What I really learned from ten years of working at camp, as a CIT, counselor, front desk manager, and camp director, was that we ALL have special needs. Some of us need to be left alone. Some need hugs. One needed to draw with his poop on the bathroom walls, but we worked on that. I needed all the papers on the front desk to be perfectly straight despite the fact that Joe would purposely run down the hallway to make them blow everywhere.
I have applied this knowledge to all my interactions since then. When I see someone angry, or hungry, or drunk or manic, I can empathize. I wonder what needs of theirs aren't getting met and how I can help them. This is especially true with the children I teach.

I learned external skills at magic camp, too. Just last week I had a class full of fifteen elementary students from kinder to fifth grade with almost unmanageable energy. Everyone was asking me different questions. "Can we go outside?" "Can I color?" "I need to call my dad". The day was only 10 minutes from ending. I opened my drawer to a bag of rubber-bands-- a simple tool that i bring Everywhere, and spun around with, "Who wants to see a Magic Trick?!". Instant silence. The group sat down. I showed my default, the "Aggie-Handcuffs." After all the kids but one fifth-grader got picked up, I swore him to secrecy, and taught him the trick.

Despite having almost two decades between when I first learned some of these techniques and activities, I still teach them with great success. I had a student who is always "bored" and asking "Do we HAVE to" when I introduce a new game or activity. But when I did some clowning activities today he was totally engaged in a way I hadn't seen him before.

I use other skills, too. At a check-out line, I drew a happy face on my finger and entertained a crying infant with my novice ventriloquism. I have built puppets of all shapes and sizes with many different groups of people after learning the power of a glue gun, at Magic Camp. Yesterday I pacified my group of wild elementary students with a lesson on balance, inspired by Peter's ladder-on-the-chin lesson. When I went to my aerial class after work, I decided to bring my jar of peacock feathers inside, rather than leaving them in the car. I subtly taught feather balancing to a child sitting bored on the couch while here mother took a silks class. At the end of the class, the child was running around the room chasing a peacock feather on her hand while I offered tips from my upside-down-on-a-rope position. This encouraged a conversation with the owner about kids camps and now I'm developing my own kids juggling class in Taos.
Oh, also-- knowing how to tie a balloon dog, bear, or sword has come in handy at the strangest times.

Hands down, the most important thing I learned from Magic Camp was improv. Life is improv. So many people are afraid to stand up and say something off the top of their head in front of other people, but that is literally what life is. Making swift decisions that hopefully have some comic relief but ultimately help you survive the moment and relieve your stress by putting it on someone else. Especially in working with children, and working in the outdoors, I have to improvise every day. I have taught several basic Improv classes to different groups of co-workers, students, and at conferences. We taught improv classes, but it was also just the mentality around camp. A mentality that I still carry. How can we rig the lights to turn on and off with a magic wand? Improv it.
The school for the blind is coming today and the show for the day is a wordless vaudeville act?! Time for some quick-thinking skills.
Magic Camp didn't take place in Hogwarts. You didn't have to jump through a wall to get there. It was usually in an old school or church or mall. Yet, we improvised a magical world within that space. Without it ever being spoken, you could feel that as soon as you entered, you could try anything, fail with friends, practice something all day if you wanted, and just be yourself.
I suppose the secret to our successful improvisation, was that we were challenged to do it in the first place. The Magic Camp empowered young adults to empathize, improvize, and take care of a cadre of campers who didn't otherwise belong. At age 14, I was responsible for taking care of a whole group of campers. At age 17, I was responsible for knowing the names of 100 campers and their parents, and sometimes their dog. At age 21, I was responsible for running a whole camp! I felt empowered, and supported. And that has translated to my whole life, through my own careers, and empowering other young people.

It's been twenty years since I first attended Magic Camp. Peter the Adequate is the uncle I never had, who has shown up for me in my most trying times without hesitation. Founder Kent's advice and role modeling has stuck with me as much as my own father's. And, although this is intended for parents of future campers, I can't neglect to mention that I met the love of my life there... when we were staff... and I chased him across the country for 14 years before we got engaged-- my own Forest Gump story.

I shudder to think of who I would be if we hadn't found the Magic Camp ad in the newspaper twenty years ago. Would I wake up and listen to Stars and Strips Forever with the delight of a kid on Christmas day, wearing a red ribboned choker with a top hat on it, on my way to teach juggling at the aerial gym? Would I live my life diving into my passions, however unpopular, knowing that whatever happens to me I have a core of framily who TRULY understand me, in a way that no one else ever did?

Since moving away from Magic Camp, I no longer enter a room full of people and have them cheer at my arrival. I haven't been a magician's assistant in at least a decade. I definitely don't have my magic briefcase anymore. I recently donated some of my more enduring magic tricks to a beginner magician friend. My kids Magic Camp shirt doesn't fit anymore. But I have a bag of juggling supplies that I carry with me to new places-- a great way to break the ice. On my floor lies a bag from the Society of Young Magicians, and my laundry bag has the Magic Camp stamp. On my shelf sits a half dozen magic-themed books. But beyond these material things polka-dotted through my room, Magic Camp has woven dozens of amazing people, experiences and skills through my life. Now I believe in Magic.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Back on the Wagon

October 1st
 The short excuse is that I lost focus, shifted priorities, and got "too busy" to adhere to my workout regimine.
The longer story is that I fell in love, I started a new, emotionally demanding but physically rewarding position at my non-profit, my fiance passed away before the wedding, in grief I hungered for nothing but lucky charms, and even though I cried through a few workouts in the following months, I couldn't maintain a routine. I started a new relationship that required some navigating of personal space and two years later still find myself moving, searching for and creating my own space, and chasing routine (a subject I have ironically neglected to succeed in blogging about). I am thankful that I made toning, training, and exercising such a regular part of my life when I had routine, because when things got crazy I had the knowledge (and desire) to drop in workouts when I could.

Ocotber 5th

Side Note: At my peak stress, I lost about 25 lbs in a year. This would be awesome if it were intentional, but I'm sure it was mostly muscle weight loss that came from appetite loss. During this time I received some comments about how great I looked. I did feel good in some ways to be 25 lbs lighter. Pull-ups were easier even with my missing muscle. But I wasn't as healthy as I had been. Just remember that skinny isn't healthy. Everyone has something going on, and if you see someone that looks like "Damn!" try something like, "you're glowing", "you look really happy", "you seem to be engaging in healthy routines" or just ask them how they feel.
*steps off soap box*
This year, despite earning my Personal Training Certification which gives me the authority to tell other people how to live healthily, I have still found it difficult to get back into a regular workout routine. Granted, though my journey in the last few years I have reconsidered what a healthy workout regimen is. Every month this year, I swore "this will be the month I get back into it" but traveling, moving, new jobs, etc. kept that pushing to the next month until finally, this October I had nothing else to do but focus!

October 14th
Here's what I did:

1) Plan
Arguably, this is the most fun part. You have nothing to lose in your planning phase, just ambitions. Obviously planning is like goal-setting: you want to make your plan achievable. Since I had been plotting my big return-to-workouts for months, as well as studying some beefy training-focused manuals, I didn't have to put too much work into my plan this time.
Here's what my plan looked like:

Every week of the month, follow this format.
Monday- Hill Runs
Tuesday- 12 minute athlete + thenics workouts
Wednesday- Sprints and/or aerials class
Thursday- Full body weights and/or fitness class at The Body Shop
Friday- Rest day
Saturday- "distance" run
Sunday- Active rest, stretch session(s)

2) Commit
October 31st
I have read a lot about training principles in the last few months. I've watched a few movies about crossfit and body building. I've started attending an Aerials class and a couple fitness classes per month. I believe that all of these forms of fitness have their place. My goal this month was SUPER simple, because I knew that's what would make me successful. My goal was just to stick to my plan. As you can see, I didn't set out any strong goals in my plan. Since I've been off the wagon for so long, my goal was just to DO something. Even if my hill run was just one or two of the driveways across the road, or my distance run was just to the mailbox and back (2.5 miles). At least I did something, every day, and followed my plan.

This month I didn't worry about nutrition, though that's something I really need to refocus on again.

The results?
I feel awesome. Granted, I am very blessed to have a body that (at least for now) is very responsive. I bought my first pair of jeggings a few days ago and it's all I want to wear. There were days that things came up and I had to shift my schedule around, but I at least tried to do some sort of 'work out' those days or doubled up the next day if I had to.
These weren't hard work outs. Some days I didn't even put on work out clothes. I just moved. That's what I want to encourage future clients to do-- just move. Be in your body, make it do stuff. Challenge yourself little bits at a time. And hopefully now that I'm getting back into my body, I can inspire future clients.

What's next?
My aerials class has been very humbling. I hadn't been on the rope since college (almost a decade ago), so remembering the grip strength, foot locks and core strength has been challenging. For November, I plan to stay committed to my schedule, work on eating enough (some...any?!) protein each day, and focus on an aerials-based workout plan that I wrote while waiting for my oil change this morning. woo!