Poem – middle

I hate the middle bits
the in-between
the waiting.

I like starting school
and graduation
but not all the days
of work
in between.

I like getting a tattoo
and having one
but not the middle bit,
the healing time.

I hate this waiting
for her to die
from her cancer.
Each phone call, each text
could be the one
to say
she’s passed.

Life on pause,
in the middle,
isn’t a life
at all.

But it is the middle that
gets to the end.

It is the middle that is
the reason
for the beginning.

It is the waiting that
seasons the sauce.

Babies take
nine months,
not just for them
but also for us
to get ready
in body, mind, and soul.
If nothing else to make a room

We need these transitions,
these spaces between,
these middle bits.

They aren’t in the way.

They are the way.

The Tattoo’d lady

I have a lot of tattoos. I don’t have one little tattoo like a flower or a butterfly on my ankle. Fully half of my left calf is inked. It is impossible to miss when I wear shorts or a short dress. Half of my right shoulder is inked too, but that is only visible when I am at water aerobics. I rarely wear short sleeve shirts, but that was true even before I got tattoos.

The most interesting thing to me is that people will often say that I don’t look like someone who has tattoos. Oddly, that is in part a reason why I have so many tattoos. Sure, I have the tattoos I have because they are meaningful to me, but I also have them because I think it is important to shake up people’s expectations.

So many people don’t really think about anything, it seems. They have their patterns and their expectations, and they are happy to live with them. When they apply “the usual” pattern to a situation or a person, they stop seeing things as they are.

They start seeing things as they think they are.

They stop seeing at all.

I have tattoos as reminders. I have tattoos as goals. They are milestones and markers, of achievements I have made, yet also of aspirations I have.

They function as a sort of Rorschach test too. If people are brave enough to ask me about them, then I ask them which one caught their eye. Then I tell them the story that goes along with that tattoo. It turns out that is the story that they need to hear that day to learn something.

I expose myself when I tell these stories. I may let people know that I am bipolar and have been in a mental hospital twice. I may let people know that God has revealed himself to me.

Are these two things connected? Perhaps.

Sometimes my tattoos create a bridge, and sometimes they create a wall. I’m ok with either. I’m ok with anything that gets people to engage, to wake up, to notice. I’m ok with anything that shakes people out of their complacency and makes them think.

Sometimes this means people are against me from the beginning, because I have marked myself as “other”. I am one of “those people”. But then they look at my smile, and how I am dressed, and where I am and they start to wonder. Their hard expectations of who I must be start to wobble a bit.

When people decide that I’m not like them because of how I am marked, it says more about them than it does about me. This too is useful for me.

In the most literal way I am “colored”. I do feel “other”, an outcast, a minority. I have chosen to highlight it rather than hide it. I have chosen to express on my outside how I feel on my inside.

I don’t show my tattoos all the time, however. There are some situations where it is important to keep a low profile. There are some situations where discretion and decorum are an advantage. But there are others where I have revealed myself to be “in” by showing my tattoos.

Small-town Southerners are generally not welcoming of tattoos. I often get open stares in rural areas, you know, the ones where everybody is the same color and a member of the same faith.

In college towns or towns where there is a diversity of cultures and views my tattoos are often admired.

So, in a way, my tattoos are also like a barometer or a thermometer. They tell me a lot about the local culture.

Kindergarten 11-6-13 Tattoos, and being “in”

One of my students was out sick today. I had V and J. It is a beautiful fall day and they were more interested in going outside to play than working. To be honest, so was I. Sometimes the playground is a better place to learn the real lessons.

The teacher left me a note that V had told her Mom that she didn’t want to come to school anymore because it is too hard. The teacher is traumatized by this. What do you do to engage a child who wants to be anywhere but there?

And then I looked around at the classroom. The two girls who had cried the first week that they didn’t want to be there, that they missed their Mom, they were still there. May be they had forgotten their anxiety. May be they had gotten distracted. Maybe it had gotten better.

Being a kindergartner is a bit like being a mental patient. You say you want to leave, and sure, you can, but it isn’t easy. It is hard to remember whatever you want to do for very long. Your mind flits around quite a bit.

Leaving school is completely the wrong thing for her. Since her home life is so messed up right now with her Mom in rehab, staying home would be impossible. She doesn’t know yet that education is her only way out of that hole. If you can read and you are curious, you can escape the terrible situation you were born into. It doesn’t even matter what you are taught at school – you have access to libraries so you can self-teach.

But, we are here, in this moment, and the teacher and I are trying to get her to just stay with us for now. Just stay, and try. Hopefully we can inspire her to “get” school. Hopefully we can engage her just long enough for her to work up a head of steam to see that school is the cure, not the problem.

We played the Dora alphabet game. It was fun! I love board games, so I’m glad I could play this with her. It teaches colors and counting and the alphabet and vocabulary. She did very well. There was another tutor nearby (a friend of mine) and she was encouraging her student. We could hear her say “I’m so proud of you” to her student and V. whipped her head around towards her words. It is obvious she is hungry for affirmation. I praise her, but is it ever enough?

She had drawings on her arm. I asked if she had done that and she said that her Dad did. She said that he made tattoos. To give a show of solidarity I showed her the tattoos I have in my leg. I knew I wore a skirt for a reason today. Usually I wear pants or a really long skirt so they don’t see my tattoos. Tattoos aren’t as taboo as they were, but they still have some stigma. She saw my tattoos and I was “in.” We are part of the same tribe.

J still doesn’t know the alphabet. Still. There are four different people working with him. I’m starting to think that he can do better but he likes the attention. I’m just not sure what tool is required to get into his head. He has to do better. There are certainly impulse and anger issues. I suspect his parents don’t work with him at home either.

I get so frustrated with how many children are seen as an afterthought. It isn’t their fault that they were conceived. There has to be a better way of getting young people to understand the huge responsibility that is being a parent – before they can become parents. No child should be unwanted or unloved.

The journey of a thousand miles.

I have a tattoo that wraps around my left ankle that is a quote from Lao Tzu. I was inspired by a book I read called “Body Type” by Ina Saltz. The entire book features tattoos that are words, and often they are in meaningful fonts.

Like any self-respecting tattooed person, I was on the quest to get another tattoo after reading that. But what? What words would be worthwhile to get permanently marked on my body? What do I need to remember that much? What would be helpful to others?

I found something that answered those questions in the quote “The journey of a thousand miles begins beneath one’s feet.” I’d always heard it as “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” but when you are going to get something permanent, you might as well make sure of the exact wording. When I looked it up, I found this alternate translation. I like “… beneath ones’ feet” much better.

Both quotes help to remind us to not look at the goal. Just get started. There is another Chinese saying that is like this. “The best time to plant a tree is a hundred years ago. The second best time is today.” Both refer to starting. You have to dream, but then you have to make those dreams real. And making dreams real is composed of a lot of tiny steps. When you first start it feels impossible, that you will never get there. Just keep going. Just keep taking tiny steps. The quote also reminds us to break up a big, difficult project up into manageable parts. Do a little here, and a little there, and you’ll get there.

But we all know that just starting is the hardest part. This is why I like the alternate translation so much better. The start is right now, right where you are. Here’s the secret – just thinking about it, you have already begun.

That is worth savoring. You want to write? Many people would say then just write. That is easier to say than do, because you want to make it perfect. You won’t. It won’t be perfect. It will be really ugly and clunky and dull at the beginning. But then you write more, and it gets easier, and clearer, and better. This applies to anything creative, not just writing.

But you still have to start.

I had a problem getting started. Sometimes the problem was stopping a bad habit and starting a better one. I know I’m not alone in this. Sometimes the inertia was too great. Sometimes I couldn’t achieve enough escape velocity to get going.

These words inspire me, and I hope they do the same to you. Just thinking about it, you’ve already started. You’ve already taken the first step.