lessons learned while un-blogged

Yikes. This year I completely un-blogged.

It would be easy to proclaim that I’ve been too busy or that I made a decision to unplug or that I’ve had nothing profound to say. All of those things have been true at one moment or another, but really I haven’t been writing at all for reasons that have nothing to do with any of that.

This year has been all new for me. There has been lots to say. And most of it has felt too personal, too intimate to write about and publish online. I feel different when the wind blows over me, as if I’ve shed a layer of myself and the layer that is bared is tender and unweathered, unused to being exposed. I don’t know how to write about this time. It feels a bit too much like stripping off my clothes in public. It feels like that tipping point when I laugh so hard that I begin to sob.

So, I un-blogged knowing that there are some things that need to be kept just for me. But while I’ve been not writing and settling into my first, delicious year of marriage, I’ve learned and been reminded of a few things:

-I need to let my friends know the good stuff and the hard stuff; I need them through it all.

-Spanish cheese is delicious but if I eat too much of it, I can’t sleep.

-Just because someone isn’t near me, doesn’t mean they aren’t close to me.

-Dear friends can be made in the strangest places, even in the lobby of a hotel in Santa Cruz.

-When living overseas, a check-in text from someone I love feels like a good hug.

-Hot water bottles are magical. So is the rose tea that Holly gave me.

-Everyone has something to teach me.

-Watching videos of puppies or hedgehogs or baby sloths is strangely awesome.

-Saying out loud what I am grateful for is like giving myself a present.

-I am powerless but I keep on breathing.

-Everyone is going through something, so I can be kind and gentle and listen and not take myself too seriously.

-John Steinbeck’s East of Eden is a masterpiece.

-Letting people in expands my life.

-Being married to Andrew is my favorite thing.

-And, as Rayne has been saying for years: Love Is The Best.

 

 

just right

On first-day-of-school-eve, I can’t sleep.

I suffer the tossing and turning and butterflies at the end of every single summer. This past summer was no different, except that the back-to-school jitters were coupled with new-to-India jitters and took over around noon instead of right as I lay down to sleep. I was at school twirling in the last minute craziness swirl and decided that an outing having nothing to do with school might be just the antidote I needed.  A new friend agreed to come along.

As we were leaving school to head into the maelstrom of traffic, we made a quick plan to head to one of Chennai’s largest and oldest temples. We cruised through the windy, dusty streets of Chennai in an auto-rickshaw, loudly sharing stories over the roar of the engine and the tireless honking.  We passed fruit stands, idli shops, storefronts with saris flowing in the breeze.  We dodged street dogs and motorcycles, large buses and lazy cows. And we arrived, in one piece, in Mylapore, at the Kapaleeswarar Temple.

The temple sits majestically in the middle of an old, bustling part of Chennai and dates back to the 7th Century. The entry way to the temple is a tall, intricately carved and painted tribute to one of the legends of Shiva.  Inside, we wandered by shrines to Karpagambal, Ganesha, Krishna. We ran into a local friend from school who circumambulated with us, whispering about each of the gods and goddesses and their relationships to each other. Together, we held our hands over the flame at Ganesha’s altar and were blessed in the pooja; ashes smeared on our foreheads, bells and horns, chanting and our reverent silence.

That August day seems like just yesterday and a lifetime ago.  It was a beautiful way to start this journey I’m on. I didn’t know it then, but good old Ganesha has been doing his thing for me ever since; placing obstacles and removing them and smiling all the way along…

Life has been kind of nuts. My back-to-school-new-to-India jitters have subsided and been replaced with LIFE. In all of the newness and excitement of change, it has been easy to get swept up and away in work and travel and visitors and friends and INDIA!  Since the moment I launched to be here, I have been flying.

And now it’s April and I can feel my body begging me to land.

I’m taking some time to just be still. To listen to the birds calling and the wind whistling through the palms. I am closing my eyes and spending time talking with my mom and remembering where I came from. I am conjuring up the feeling in my stomach I had when I was a shy, little curly-haired girl afraid to jump with the rope swing out into the water. I am remembering days when I was too reserved to say what I really needed, to say how I truly felt.

In this stillness, I am honoring those pieces of me; those pieces that remind me of how incredible it feels now to take the leap, to speak up, to show up just as I am. I have been holding on tightly to some old ideas for a long time. Now, in this new space, I open my hands and let those ideas drift off with love and compassion; they served me so well when I needed them.  They drift away from me, into the air, like ashes.

I’m thinking back to August when I stepped over the threshold into the temple. I remember the questions swirling through my head, the uncertainty, the newness of this chapter. I felt grateful that day to be in such a sacred space with someone who I knew, even then, saw me clearly.  I can smell the incense, taste the sweet pongal handed to me with love by Raji, feel the heat and dust of the ancient stones on the bottom of my bare feet.

That moment and all those before and since have led me to right now. And in this moment, as I slow down enough to just be still, I know everything is just right.

Flying is good. Landing is amazing.

kapaleeswarar

new kid

I walk down a hall of palm trees to get to the cafeteria from my office at my new school.

Sometimes I see lizards. Or kids playing floor hockey in the outdoor covered gym. Sometimes I see Jeff in his cowboy hat speaking enthusiastically to an adorable group of first graders. Or twelve ladies with scissors cutting the little patches of grass by the performing arts center.

I walk down a hall of palm trees.

Designed to let air flow through the open campus, my new school is a lush, green, pristine oasis in the middle of  noisy, dusty Chennai.  The structures are simple and the grounds are gorgeous.

It is a truly beautiful place for students to learn. The kids are settling in to the new school year and the crazy marathon of school mania is in full-swing: spirit week is underway, progress reports are due, meetings, meetings and more meetings, homecoming this Friday, big swim meet on Saturday. School is school no matter where you are in the world.

I am still finding my bearings.  After nine years of being Glam and knowing the intimate details of my students lives at Classical, being new is…hard. I had grown used to having answers, my phone ringing off the hook, to walking down the hall and noticing a scratch in the paint that wasn’t there the day before.  I am used to knowing the name of every single kid in the building and likely knowing their mom’s name, their address and what their loves and hopes and fears were.

And now, I am new.

I ask a million questions and can go an entire day without my phone ringing.  I have a mere 104 students on my caseload. I am slowly learning each of their names and even know a thing or two about a few of their dreams for the future. I am Ms. McGlamery or Ms. Susannah or Ms. I’m-sorry-I’m-not-sure-of-your-name-yet and I speak too quickly and use too many colloquialisms and idioms for non-native English speakers.  I am challenged and on my learning-edge and so grateful to be in a space where I feel supported while I am completely lost.

I remind myself that I was once new at Classical.

I remind myself that my relationships with DaJavon and Jelan and Ashleigh and Alex grew over years, that I was just plain Ms. for months, that my kids were once kids that looked at me with skepticism and that Farron only started calling me Glam-Glam because calling me Susannah was awkward at school and we were too close for the whole Ms. McGlamery thing.

On the days when I am drowning in questions, I just need to sit for a while with students to find my footing again… because the new is kind of amazing. And the new kids…are totally amazing.

My kids have lived in places I dream of visiting: Kuala Lumpur, Sao Paolo, Budapest, Delhi, Seoul.  A majority speak more than one language; many are learning English while swimming in the deep end of AP classes and the many demands of a rigorous academic program.  Some of them leave school at 4:00 only to go to another school where they study their native language and prepare for college entrance exams until 9:00 at night before going home to do homework.  My kids are from Korea, Malaysia, India, England, France, Italy, America, Japan, Indonesia. They wave or bow or thank me each time they leave my office. They are vibrant and quiet and stressed and reflective and wonderful and trusting.

My new kids are slowly and quietly working their way into my heart. In them I see the same excitement for life, the same passion for learning and the same desire to trust that I found in my Classical kids.

Sanjay reminds me of Marco.  Naranjana laughs like Asha.  Dongsu makes me think of Marcel when he’d linger after reading group to tell me something sweet about his sister.

My kids in Hartford. My kids in Chennai…Lucky me to have all of these amazing people in my life.

Tropical, global-nomad Glam-Glam is in full effect.

settling in

Last night I spotted a woman in a doorway on a crowded street. I was on my way to dinner with a few new friends; it was dark outside and the hustle and bustle of the crowded street made for a challenging walk. Dodging motorbikes and stray dogs, abandoned shoes, last week’s garbage and a man selling bangles on a blanket, I finally looked up as the lit-up doorway caught my eye.  The woman stood with her hands on her hips, glowing in a perfectly wrapped, bright orange sari.

She took my breath away.

Her stance, her sari, her serene presence shook me, and for the first time since I landed on July 24th, it hit me.  I am not just visiting India for a few weeks.

I live here.

I am buying food containers and setting up a spice cabinet. I am investing in pots and pans and garbage cans. I am in the beginning stages of friendships of all sorts. I am getting up early and heading in to work. I am starting to know which way to turn to get to a particular shop and how to get back to my house in the dark.

This weekend I visited friends who are stuck in the hospital with Dengue Fever. I had cocktails at the home of the U.S. Consulate General. I danced into the wee hours of the morning to 80s music and stood in the rain laughing with friends. I went to a school picnic and had a hot oil hair massage and walked the tree-lined streets of Besant Nagar. I ate paneer tikka masala and dal mahkni and checked out a handmade cane swing for my porch.

I wake up to the sound of waves crashing outside of my window. Crows cawing to each other and the street guards chatting away. I know it takes 17 minutes for the water to heat for my shower; I adjust my snoozer accordingly.  I know the morning guard wants to speak in English so he quickly says, “good morning!” before I can greet him in Tamil. I jump in a banged-up, bright yellow auto-rickshaw and watch with wonder as my driver weaves his way through the onslaught of cars and bikes and motorbikes, tuk-tuks and trucks. I pass the young guy with the two pugs and the smiling maid. I pass the ironing-wallah and the old man with a rose filled basket on his bike. I arrive at my new school, pour myself a cup of tea and dig into my work. I am starting to learn the names of my co-workers children. Sunita’s birthday is September 20th, Priya’s mother-in-law is staying with her for a month. I know if I don’t leave school by 4:30, I will be stuck in a cluster of traffic that will turn my 5 minute commute into a 50 minute commute. When I get home the guys will be on the beach playing cricket. The couples will be sitting in the sand watching the waves come in.

My calendar is filled with new student meetings, yoga begins tomorrow and I have dinner plans on Tuesday.

I am living.

wheels

trust the process

I have been carrying some heavy stuff.

Literally, carrying it like a ton of horrendously heavy bricks, in my lower back.

I kept thinking that I was unusually calm about my move. Yeah, I was crying here and there when I’d say goodbye to friends or think too much about being far away from my family but, in general, I felt cool as a cucumber.  Until exactly one week before my flight when every single emotion I was feeling moved right into my lower back and made itself at home. Classic. The plane ride was somewhat brutal; if not for my adrenaline and some Tylenol PM, I’m sure I would have had to lie down in the aisle and cry.  I did come close to having a full cavity search at the Frankfurt airport because I forgot to take off my CVS one-use heating pad before I went through security. Needless to say, I arrived in India unable to get up from sitting down without limping and groaning.

I have been carrying Change. And all of the unknown that comes along with it.

My new friend Diane empathized and made me an appointment for an Ayurvedic massage.  It was time to begin making things right between my mind and my body and, as it turns out, there is an Ayurvedic center just a walk down the beach away from my house.

Never one to turn away from massage, I went for it.

And…I wore a loincloth.

No discreet removal of the clothes and tucking away under a blanket with a soft knock on the door to see if I’m ready.

Papadhi directed me to undress, tied a loincloth on me and escorted me to a wooden table. All without saying a word.

If I hadn’t been so scantily clad, I might have bolted from the room then and there but as I climbed up on that hard wooden table and Papadhi prayed over the oil she just heated and touched one drop to the center of my forehead, I knew I was right where I was meant to be.

I closed my eyes and let the treatment that millions before me have received, over thousands of years, unfold.

After the hot oil rub and pounding of my scalp that left me looking like Sai Baba, Papadhi vigorously massaged the oil into each of my limbs, into my belly, my back and neck and then led me to the corner of the room…

I sat down on a little stool inside a steaming box, Papadhi closed the hatch, leaving only my head sticking out and I promptly began to freak out. My calm, Ayurveda bliss disappeared.  My mind was whirling: how can I hold myself up like this? how long will I be in here? what if sweat drips into my eye? how long will I be in here? how long will I be…and then Papadhi left the room.

I was stuck. Alone. Naked. In a hot box.

what if I have to get out and I can’t get out? what if 10 guys come through that door? what if she never comes back?

I closed my eyes (solution to sweat not dripping in), I relaxed my shoulders (solution to holding my head up) and I took a deep breath (solution to everything else). And then another breath.

I breathed some more and reminded myself to trust the process.  (Millions of people, over thousands of years, wouldn’t think this was transformative if they were having anxiety attacks every time they had a treatment…)

When Papadhi let me out I almost fainted. I was buck naked except for my loincloth, with a giant afro, sweating like a beast and unable to see, but I felt just right.  Papadhi rubbed all of my stress to the surface and then gave me space to sweat out my fear of the unknown.

I walked home on the beach smiling, feeling lighter; waves crashing, wind blowing, kids playing cricket in the sand.

listen.trust.grow.fly.

I ask my kids at school a big question when they are at a crossroads.  It’s not anything major. It’s not even original.  Some of them roll their eyes. Some of them spout out some ideas about what that might look like. Some of them go inside themselves and really think on it.

Last Spring I asked an 8th grader the question.

“This is your one life, what do you want it to be?” and while he sat there wrinkling his nose and rubbing his buzzcut, I thought to myself, “My one life.  my one LIFE. My ONE life. MY one life. MY ONE LIFE!!!!!!!”

My life? It’s kind of amazing. It doesn’t fit into a box, but it’s kind of amazing and I want it to continue to be amazing and I want to continue to grow and change and be excited and feel grounded and laugh my head off and love deeply and be moved by encounters with strangers and have adventures in places that rock me right to my core.

And, then, I remembered that the kid sitting across from me in my office was still there.  He wasn’t sure what he wanted his life to be yet but he knew that there were things he wants to do and that someday he’d like to have his own car and go to a real NFL game. And that made me remember that there are things that I’ve always wanted to do that I haven’t done yet and I’d better get to it.

Last Summer I felt my heart beating faster when I started thinking about a new adventure.  In Autumn I felt myself light up inside when I’d look at the world map that hangs above my desk at work.  This Winter I took the plunge and accepted a job offer at an international school in Chennai, India.

And today it’s snowing and I have never seen anything quite so beautiful.

That’s what happens when I do what is real and right for me. Everything becomes more beautiful.

I walked in the snow just now thinking about how this might be the last blizzard I see for awhile. About how my life in Hartford is so rich. I thought about my dad’s kitchen table that he made out of the tiles from the kitchen in our old house on Annawan St. and how much I love to sit at that table with him.  I have love and comfort and stability and the waitstaff at the coffee shop hug me when I come in. Hartford is my home; my people are here.

And because of that love and comfort and richness and that little 8th grader with the buzzcut, my wings emerge. I choose to do what moves me. What makes me feel alive. What challenges me and takes me out of my comfort zone and enables me to grow into a different space.

Being grounded is about how you stand on the earth no matter where on earth you stand.  I am moving to India. I am following my heart and my dreams and my gut. I am moving on from an amazing job that has allowed me to grow in ways that I never could have imagined. I am letting go of things that I thought that I needed that no longer serve me.  I am moving away from people that make my life amazing. I am trusting that love will transcend time and space and challenges and that the people who love me will love me through this.

My one life…I am flying with the feeling of following through on something that I have always dreamed of. The discomfort feels comfortable. Strangely, I feel grounded as I take flight.

And these wings? They look pretty good on me.

tree

waiting for sandy

So I’m sitting around waiting for a hurricane to hit.

The trees outside my window are swaying, the sky is grey. I’ve got a pile of books to read but no groceries because I went out for ice cream sundaes with friends last night instead of scrounging for batteries and stocking up on non-perishables.

It’s the calm before the storm.

Everyone is in deep speculation mode. How hard will this hit? How many will lose power? How long will we lose power? Will Halloween be cancelled? Will everyone be okay??

The questions are endless.

And as we sit and wait, no one knows the answers. No matter how much internet trolling I do, no matter how much Weather Channel I watch, no matter how many times I get out of bed to peak out of the window in the middle of the night; this is going to be what it’s going to be.

Everyone’s got a storm style. There are folks who plan and prepare and take care of business. Folks who freak out and worry and worry and worry. Folks who think everyone else is crazy for even talking about the storm. Folks who get excited.

Maybe our storm styles are a reflection of how we approach the unpredictability of life.

I can’t control what Sandy will bring, so all I can do is be. I’m the calm through the storm.

So on this blustery, weird day, I’m headed to where I feel safest and happiest during a storm: in my pjs hunkered down with a dear old friend.

(Stay safe and warm everyone. xoxo)

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susie’s got her groove back

Oh, okay. I never really lost it…

But it’s officially Fall and I just like the sound of that: I’ve got my groove back. I’m getting my groove on. I’m in the groove. Grooving.

These first days of Fall are delicious. When the air starts to feel crisp and sleeping with the windows open means pulling the covers tight and snuggling in, when sandals get traded for boots and the leaves begin to change… A perfect time to reflect on what’s gone by and what is to come.

The past few months have been a bit of a whirlwind. Summer vacation, a major hiatus from my computer, lots of little trips to here and there… it was the Summer of Yes!

Saying yes is easy when you don’t have a shower or a toilet for two months. Yup, that’s right. I had no shower or toilet for two months. This summer included the DIY transformation of my hideous bathroom into a sparkly, beautiful new bathroom! For this, I have my amazing Dad to thank. I said yes to his offer to help me with the renovation; he said yes to helping me and took on the project with such enthusiasm and energy, I can’t say that I did much other than cheer him on. I can say that this was truly a labor of love… it was not an easy project.

The moral of the story is that one has to be resourceful when without a shower and toilet! So YES! I was open to whatever came my way. I said yes to opportunities. I ate out. I went to the beach. I road-tripped with my mom. I picnicked. I visited the beach my family camped at when I was little. I drove to Rhode Island to spend a few hours on the beach. I chilled with my family and my oldest friend. I danced my butt off with old friends. I flew to Florida and laughed myself silly with the girls. I went wine tasting with new friends. I visited my camp GALS. I carried a bag full of necessities with me wherever I went and I said yes to any invitation that came my way… it was a wonderful summer!

And so it’s Fall. And things are changing…

It’s time to let go of the pieces of myself that no longer serve me. It’s time to prepare for the hunkering down, to take a good look at  life and see what I really need to move forward.

I learned a lot in this Summer of Yes that I will take with me into this transformative time:

  • It is the people in my life that make my life beautiful. Wherever I am. No matter what.
  • Laughing rocks. Even when crying seems more logical.
  • Being there matters. It matters to someone. It matters in ways that are immeasurable.
  • Sometimes there is nothing to say. So don’t say anything. Just hug.
  • This is your one life. So live it. Live it big.
  • Maybe the things we think we really need aren’t really the things we need.
  • Love is the best.

It’s amazing what you figure out when you don’t have a toilet.

Groove is in the heart.

crazy, stupid, mindfulness

Yesterday I had one of those days.

You know, one of those days where no matter what you do, nothing goes your way? Yup, that was my Tuesday.

I had a pinched nerve in my neck. I woke up an hour late. I rushed to work, arriving late, only to walk into a big, ugly girl-fight as I came off of the elevator. Decided that my pinched-nerve-self needed to break up the fight, which then left me all shaky and freaked out. I got my haircut and couldn’t pay because in all of my rushing, I grabbed the wrong bag and forgot my wallet.

Stupid day.

Nothing horrible. Just stupid.

A stupid day every once in a blue moon is good for me. It brings me back to the moment. It makes me remember that all of my busy, crazy, rushing, overworking, nuttiness is just that: busy and crazy and nutty. No matter how much I try to control things and put everything in its place, I’m still going to have a ridiculous day every now and then. There will always be things that just don’t go the way I want them to go.

And so?

I breathe. Deeply.

I slow down.

I call someone who will marvel at how tired I must have been to sleep through my alarm clock blaring for an hour. I call someone who will laugh at the image of me jumping into a fight and pulling some angry girls (and a 40 year old!) off of each other. I call someone who will tell me that it’s okay to take the battery out of my butt and just relax.

And then, once I’ve stopped? I see what has been in front of me all along.

This moment.

Pretty freaking amazing.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“What day is it?” asked Pooh.

“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.

“My favorite day,” said Pooh.”

– A. A. Milne

roots and wings

Staying put was never my thing.

There was a time when I moved every two years, at least. I itched for change. For the rush of starting something new, carving out space in an unknown corner. I traveled, I moved. I made friends, started to get settled, and than picked up and moved again. Sometimes I’d move back to my hometown for a bit and then take off again. I was in full on flying mode, wings ever at the ready; I knew I wasn’t ready to put down roots just yet.

And that made my life pretty interesting.

In 2004, I wound up on a road trip in the Kalahari Desert with a great friend, her mom, and her stepsister. Four women piled in a jeep, cruising through desolate southern Africa; it was really something. At the time, I was living in New York City, just finished grad school and had turned down counseling jobs in the Bronx and Shanghai. I had no idea what I was going to do when I got back to the U.S., so my desert adventure was a perfect detour. We spent our days spotting rare birds and springboks, goemsboks, and zebra, chatting with San Bushmen. At night, we’d crouch in shelters overlooking watering holes, hoping to spot a lion, drinking tea out of thermoses, whispering and giggling in the cold.

One night, I looked up at the amazing, huge, sky and marveled at the sight of it. Clear. Limitless. Not so unlike the sky I’d seen lying on my back in the front yard at home. I knew in that moment, that whatever I ended up choosing to do, wherever I ended up choosing to go next, it would be right; I could feel it in my gut.

And so weeks later when walking down Farmington Avenue, rocking my favorite pink “Glam is Back” t-shirt, I listened to that feeling in my stomach when the opportunity to move back home presented itself. Worlds away from the Kalahari, I conjured up that clarity and though it seemed crazy to be 29 and moving from the greatest city in the world back to Hartford, I heard what my heart was telling me.

Seven and a half years later, I am so grateful that I listened.

I wound up back in little old Hartford, whose sidewalks I know as well as my own palms. Whose homes cradle the people that I love. Whose streets inspire me, challenge me, remind me. I wound up wonderfully enmeshed in the lives of family and old friends, in the families of my friends; challenged by carving out a new space for myself in the place that I knew so well but that had changed as much as I had.

I wound up working in a school where I am happy to go each day. Where I have found so much joy and reward; where I have been part of building something exceptional. I wound up being one of the lucky people on this earth who get to make a bit of a difference each day; working in a place with people who have empowered me to grow in ways that I never could have imagined that day on Farmington Avenue when my phone rang.

At the time, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I felt like everything in my life was up in the air. I was mourning the end of a phase of my life and reveling in the beginning of another. I was scared. I was completely in flux.

Today? The flux continues.

And as it does, I go back to that quiet night under the stars; I conjure up the Kalahari clarity and remind myself that change is good; it’s not comfortable, but it is good. I give myself permission to reflect on all that for which I am grateful. I remind myself to trust the process, to trust my gut.

No matter what kind of noise is crowding my mind, my gut is always worth listening to. It has led me to some amazing people, some unlikely places and some experiences that made no sense to me until they were long over, but, my gut, it knows a thing or two.

This time, I don’t need to go to the desert to listen to myself. While my life may not be quite as exciting and interesting and story-worthy as it was back when I was rootless, footloose and fancy free, the flux feels powerful and exciting instead of scary.

And while I haven’t put away my wings entirely, my roots are here, at home; deep and strong and full of hope.

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