Saturday, May 25, 2013

Rhythms and Anchors: life truth from young adult literature

I've been reading up a storm lately, but you couldn't tell by looking here.   I recently finished Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rivka Brunt and reread Crank by Ellen Hopkins with my students.  I  also reread the young adult Tales of the Madman Underground by John Barnes for my graduate class and loved it just as much the second time around.  It is set in a small Ohio town in 1973 and the Karl, the high school senior protagonist has been a part of a therapy group at school since elementary school.  They dubbed themselves the Madman Underground, since they know everything about each other's lives, but generally stick to their own social circles outside of therapy.  Karl's dad passed away and his cat-hoarding mother drinks her nights away and steals Karl's money to pay for it.

This calendar year has felt like a whirlwind to me: planning a wedding, moving to a new (fixer upper) apartment, and going back to graduate school on top of grading essays and state tests has left me feeling scattered and in survival mode--I've spent quite a bit of my walking time getting from one place to the next dreaming about getting upstate with some English breakfast tea, hiking boots and a pile of books.  In the midst of the crazy, I came across this passage from Madman from a scene when Karl feels exhausted and overwhelmed and looks over to a list of household projects and chores that his dad made for him before he died:

Dad had left me a list, month by month and week by week, when to do all the stuff he'd shown me how to do.  I couldn't always keep up with it, between Mom and the cats. I knew it would all fall to shit the minute I left for the army.  Still, mostly I kept it up.  Nights when I couldn't sleep, I'd just turn on my desk lamp, point it at the wall, and read that list to myself til I knew where I was in the world again (110).

I actually teared up thinking about Karl re-grounding himself in rhythms that were passed down to him by his father and the way that rereading them enabled him to remember his true identity.  This is the piece that I have often gone without this year--I have kept going and going and the easiest things to let go of were the rhythms and anchors that remind me of who I am--be it through writing, running in the park, cooking a meal.  We are also in the midst of our final unit: studying Coming-of-Age literature and thinking about what it means to grow up, and this wisdom from Karl is some of the best advice I could ever give a teenager, and also helps put their lives and craziness into perspective.

There was a crazy day last week when I didn't have time to cook but couldn't bear to order in food that wouldn't feel good to my body.  So I decided to make a meal that would take the longest to make, of course: risotto with spring vegetables.  I was filled with anxiety and my mind was looming with deadlines, but decided that it was worth it to walk to a grocery store much further than the two closest to me to get higher quality vegetables.  Within a block of walking I was so taken by the late spring evening light and my neighborhood's energy that I was able to completely reset my mindset.  It was a mental miracle.  

So.  I realized that I needed to build in some time for anchoring myself just like Karl did.  This week I started reading Brene Brown's The Gift of Imperfection with a friend of mine (after seeing her game changing Ted Talks last fall and being blown away).  One of the first things she talks about is recognizing the moments when you feel yourself becoming depleted and to do something about it in the moment--remembering your anchors and truths.  This past week I've been able to climb out of the craziness bit by bit and breathe.

It also helps that summer is so close.