Break-Up Letter to 2020

Dear 2020,

I am thankful we made it this far, but I am going to say goodbye today. We are finished.

Thankfully,

Denise

When I chose my one word for 2020, time, it was partly because I never had enough. I was never able to accomplish everything (hardly anything it seemed) on my to-do list. I think it had more to do with the fact that I am a teacher than that I was lazy or unproductive.

Ironically, though, early in the year I had more time than I needed. We were sent home from school on February 26, 2020. Learning online continued, and it was stressful at times, but time became much more plentiful. I did manage to achieve some of my hopes for 2020–like doing the NYT mini puzzle each day and taking a one-second video each day. (OK, I know!) But a big hope for me was to be more intentional about building relationships and leadership in those I work with. And, thankfully, this has been a definite highlight.

There were other hopes I did not reach. For instance, I haven’t finished my TESOL certificate or read 40 books in 2020. Why was it that 2020 was not a good reading year? I wondered quite often.

However, I spent some of my 2020 time on things that were not even on my list from last year, ideas that pre-covid were unheard of and/or long-neglected in my life.

  • I learned to cook with spices.
  • I have been exercising and lost 30 extra pounds that did not need to be on my body.
  • I took better care of my mental health.
  • I edited the videos for 40 online worship services for church.
  • I wrote more than 75 poems and more than 150 blog posts.
  • I have not gotten covid-19.

For all these things I am grateful. Since I’ve been practicing thankfulness when I wrote some gratiku and a poem about gratitude in November, I thought giving thanks is a worthy yearlong plan (or longer).

So, for 2021, I am choosing to be thankful, to say thank you every day to my God and to the people around me and in my life. Life is short, and I can’t always be productive. I’m going to embrace life and say thank you for it, even while I keep working for love, peace, change, and justice. While I work, and even when I’m unproductive, my one word for 2021 is Gratitude.

One word for 2021 --gratitude written on a canvas setting on a small easel
My one word for 2021

Images: Hour glass timer by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
Thank you blocks by Courtney Hedger on Unsplash

Other one word posts
Voice
Fit
Serenity
Hope
Sow
Time

The Isolation Journals Prompt 122 by Ezra Bookman
Choose one bit of gunk you want to get rid of, something you don’t want to carry with you into 2021. A negative thought you use to put yourself down, a limiting belief or bad habit. Some idol in your inner temple that’s holding your light back from the world. Write it a goodbye letter, as if you’re breaking up with it.

Waiting

Waiting

Are you ready for Karak tea?
My husband’s gift to pour–
Friday mornings, quietly free
This chai, my drink du jour

On this Advent winter Morning
Emmanuel–God with us
Gift of Ransom from our mourning
Rescued from pain and pus

Rejoice, rejoice–God with us, here
In this place, in becoming–
Sipping sweet, spicy, milky Tea
Pause and smile. He’s coming.

The Isolation Journals with Suleika Jaouad Prompt #120 by Cat Miles.

Write about a beloved drink—about how you make it, a memory associated with it, or the way it connects you to others or yourself.

I combined this with another prompt about using Emily Dickinson’s techniques. I attempted #1, writing about a mundane subject with a bigger idea, and #2, using common meter and rhyme. It was also easy to throw in techniques #3, capitalized nouns, and #4, use of dashes. I think I’ll keep practicing! Especially on #2.

Death

Death

For you, the pandemic is only a
history lesson owned by
old folks who shudder about
having gone to Zoom school
when they were kids.
The fear of fundamentalism
was in its prime back then
And it happened at a time when some
in our country were so poor
they didn’t have
homes, enough food or health care.
Do you believe it?

I am your ancestor and you know little about me
No reason for you to imagine the problems I helpfully solved
or my taste for sweet juicy mango
No reason for you to know that I was a storyteller
and a story writer or that I tried
to help children
own their learning

You will live your life well without knowing how I
could bake chocolate chip cookies as well as Mrs. Field,
nurture sourdough for years without killing it, and
edit videos for online church services.

All my digital files were
put into the Recycle Bin
with one click of
a mouse,
(do you still call them that?)
maybe two clicks.

I remember how I died,
and because I couldn’t stop myself,
Death kindly came for me.

He slowed down for me to smell the
jasmine in the garden,
to eat the spicy rice,
ignoring the chicken.
He let me say goodbye to the butterflies
and cheetahs, the puffins and the elephants
He let me hold a newborn baby, pet a fluffy puppy,
and write once more with a fine pen.
He let me listen to favorites by
Simon and Garfunkel,
Gordon Lightfoot,
and Carole King,
like an old person.

He told me
the unfinished paper piles,
collections of “important” stuff,
unfinished to-do lists
could all be left behind
and no one,
really, no one,
would care.

All those things I had spent decades counting as gain,
I finally was able to count as loss
Looking back,
I can see how
taking Him by the hand
gave me more than
I could ever imagine

Prompt 116 by Mark Wunderlich:
Write a poem in which the speaker is dead but still possesses a consciousness and is capable of thought and speech. Include rich description and concrete physical details, as if the speaker is greedy for the sensory experience of life on earth.

Mentor texts shared by Mark, including one of his own poems. I used ideas or phrases from each of these in my poem:

“Because I Could Not Stop for Death” by Emily Dickinson

“Mummy of a Lady Named Jemutesonekh” by Thomas James

“Our Dust” by C.D. Wright

“To Whom It May Concern” by Mark Wunderlich

and a Bible verse that inspired me Philippians 3:8

I’ve Looked at Both Sides Now

Rows and flows of angel hair
And ice cream castles in the air
And feather canyons everywhere
I looked at clouds that way
But now they only block the sun
They rain and snow on everyone
So many things I would have done
But clouds got in my way
I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s cloud’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all

Joni Mitchell

Be cute and quiet, Dad’s anger will cease
Go outside, don’t stir up trouble, please
We called peace where there was no peace
I looked at peace that way
But now, “No justice, no peace,” I know
The arc is bending slowly, though
Let justice roll down and freedom flow
I’ve looked at peace from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
Peace’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know peace at all

Husband and wife, the man’s in charge
He brings home the bacon, his power’s large
Patriarchy’s rules discharged
I looked at marriage that way
But now he weds he or she marries she
Marriage is an act of love, I see
It’s not just my experience for love to be
I’ve looked at marriage from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
Marriage’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know marriage at all

God said it, I believe it, that settles it.
Deny the times you’ve been in the pit.
No questions asked, fake it with grit.
I looked at faith that way
But now I have a faith that stays
God’s with me even when I stray
I have the amount I need just for today
I’ve looked at faith from both sides now
From up and down and still somehow
It’s faith’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know faith at all

Prompt #115
Write about a time you encountered someone from your past after many years. How did it feel to be suddenly reacquainted with this person? What did it reveal to you–about who you were and who you are now?

The Isolation Journals prompt today is by Alex Gaertner. It inspired my poem in a roundabout way. This Joni Mitchell prompt is one I didn’t write last April when Susan gave us the prompt to use “Both Sides Now.” Alex’s prompt inspired me to consider my developing beliefs and attitudes over decades. I was reminded of my cousin in a same-sex relationship. There were a few years when I didn’t see her and didn’t know. Because I didn’t see her in those young adult years before I read a life-changing book called Is the Homosexual My Neighbor?, I don’t have to know what the encounter might have revealed about me.

My First Seven Jobs

Suleika Jaouad‘s The Isolation Journals has been a lovely way to find writing inspiration this Covid-19 season. This week the prompt was inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert’s essay called “The Muse of the Coyote Ugly Saloon.”

Prompt 114:
“Excavate the long-buried lowlights of your résumé and jot down a list of your first seven jobs. Then pick the most surprising, disastrous, or absurd, and spin it into an epic tale.”

My First Seven Jobs

  • Babysitter
  • Thumbtack packer
  • Office worker in my high school office
  • Hallmark store retail clerk
  • P.E. aide in middle and high school
  • Geography research assistant
  • Staffing Clerk

So, lots of unique and unforgettable memories come up when I peruse the list of my first seven jobs, but one that stands out today is being a P.E. coach and assistant teacher in a small Christian school just starting out. My roommate was a teacher at the school, and I was recruited to help coach and assist in P.E. classes. Oh, my. To say there was a bit of a mismatch in my skills and the position would be an understatement.

First, a word about my long and winding road to a bachelor’s degree. I worked my way through college in a part-time job.  (Albeit it was a much easier job when California State Universities were tuition-free and unions were stronger.) I mostly took 12-15 units a semester while I also worked to pay my living expenses. I was a business administration major for a while, with plans to be a high school business teacher (inspired only by my infatuation with the young hunk of a business teacher I had fallen in love with in high school). But then the required-reading Wall Street Journal newspapers piled up on the dining room table during my first econ class. I had no intention of reading them, so I dropped that class and changed my major. The infatuation gone.

I was a Liberal Studies major for a while, which I loved. You get to dabble in everything. I had the idea of being an elementary teacher during those semesters. Gradually, I decided, though, to be an adapted physical education teacher. I had loved an internship I did at a state hospital in the P.E. department of their onsite school.

Therefore, I changed my major to P.E. and took all the science, kinesiology, exercise physiology, and other foundational and theoretical courses in the physical education program, along with some special education courses. However, at the end of that, I was finally left with most of the activity course requirements. That meant for each one-unit volleyball, swimming or basketball class, I would have to spend three hours a week in activity courses. My full-time job for a semester or two would have been playing sports. Now, that wouldn’t be all bad, but deep down, I was not a P.E. teacher. I was not a coach. I was not even an athlete, in the committed, all-out way, that had I been, I would have welcomed taking all those activity courses.

So, I changed my major yet again. I looked at the units that had been piling up in my transcript. Geography was the department in which I had accumulated the most units. I took those courses purely out of my love for geography. I have always loved it, since childhood. I looked at the program in that department, and planned my schedule. I took two more semesters taking solely advanced-level geography courses. It was the best year of my six-and-a-half year journey through college.

Which leads me to that job as P.E. coach and assistant teacher. Fortunately, I was surrounded with mentors in that job who were dedicated and committed “coaches.” They were good role models for me to see what I was not. I remember taking time to teach the girls about aerobic exercise, teaching them to take their pulse, helping them calculate their maximum heart rate and check to see if they were in the 80% range after their runs around the field. I loved that. I loved the math, the science, the teaching.

However, I was also a coach. Junior high softball and volleyball, and assistant coach for basketball. Oops, at that point in my life, my greatest knowledge of basketball was that in high school I could shoot really good layups, and I was a statistician for the boys’ basketball teams. The stats job was mostly so we could ride the bus with the team. I hardly knew the rules of basketball when I played myself. I was a poser as far as this team sport went.

In my first outing with the basketball team, I was assigned to be one of the officials. Each team had to provide one official, so our coach surely felt it safe to assign this job to her new “P.E. major” assistant coach. They gave me a whistle. I ran around the court trying to stay out of the way of the junior highers. I gave the ball to students to throw back in, feeling powerful. I followed the lead of the other official and began to feel like I could do this.

In one of my first solo whistling acts as a ref during that game, I blew my whistle nice and loud and called a three-second violation on my own team. When I did that, I immediately knew something was wrong. The wind collectively dropped out of the whole scene. Fans, players, parents, coaches stared, open-mouthed. Everything stopped. I felt like I was being pranked or pranking the stadium on Candid Camera. I really didn’t know what had happened. The coach came out and had a little conference with me, explaining my faux pas. Our player had been shooting and rebounding when I blew the whistle.

“OK, I learned something,” I thought to myself. I made it through the rest of the game, with a lot of grace extended to me.

I actually stayed in that position for two years during college. I appreciated all that I learned during those years, but I don’t regret not becoming a P.E. teacher. Since then, I’ve coached a lot of softball over the years, and love it, actually. Softball is my game. But believe it or not, the abundance of P.E. units on my transcript has always said, at least on paper, that I am certified to coach K-12 sports. Lol!