Tag Archives: coaching

Real Talk

Where have two weeks gone? Since Memorial Day weekend, summer has arrived; we finally became first-time homeowners (hurrah!); I took my first writing class since college days; my parents bought their ticket to visit over the Fourth of July (hurrah again!); we made our inaugural visit to Sam’s Club… the list goes on and on. While I actually have a gazillion things to write about and think about lately, the practical part of me has been focused on the need to organize as much as is humanly possible. Thus writing quickly gets pushed to the bottom of my to-do list, ironically when I need to process the most.

Of all things to inspire me, it had to be watching an episode of The Next Food Network Star last night. This season they modified the format: the finalists are broken up into teams being coached by Alton Brown, Giada de Laurentiis, and Bobby Flay, respectively. Every week, they are faced with two-part challenges, because they are expected to cook well and be able to be themselves (budding stars) on camera, too — obviously, the latter tends to be the far more difficult part. So I’m watching this episode, and by now the finalists are expected to have a very clear sense of their individual points of view, food-wise and personality-wise. Listening to the coaches, they all had the same message for each person: Be yourself. Be authentically you and no one else. Be confident in you and the stories you have to tell. It will translate positively on camera, we promise, because people want to connect to Who You Really Are.

Last week in my 5-day writing class, we all walked in on Monday as strangers. The first sharing we had to do was read aloud an informal piece of writing that we had to bring with us: metaphors for our writing process. What floored me — and maybe what I should have expected, having been in writing workshops before — was how much we revealed about ourselves through our writing as the week went on. On Wednesday our instructors put us into workshop groups based on our chosen genres (we had three non-fiction pieces and one poem in mine). My personal essay was about three different writing experiences at various points in my life. Immediately after reading my work, the poet in our group said, “This piece is about the narrator reclaiming joy in her life that she used to feel when she was a child.” What?! That’s what I wrote about? I thought I had been taking a walk down memory lane with myself. But there I was, naked like a baby in the words on the paper, and this semi-stranger called it out.

So it was as we workshopped everyone’s piece – the “cheapest therapy” available, our instructors called it. Each of us — in our small groups and in our class overall — uncovered (re-discovered?) parts of ourselves that we didn’t realize were there. It’s a very disconcerting and simultaneously liberating experience to meet yourself on a piece of paper. Even when you want to or try to lie to yourself (or about yourself), people who are paying close attention will recognize what’s going on below the surface. Real talk. No hiding from that. By the end of the week we couldn’t help but be engaged authentically with each other, as was made apparent in the notes people shared after reading portfolios and the meaningful, no-cost gifts we exchanged (including the priceless gifts of honesty and actively listening to each other throughout the week).

If you’ve never had a Moleskine journal, I promise it’s inspiring.

The other best part of class for me was doing free writes in my  (unlined) journal for the class. I truly love seeing people’s handwriting — including my own — because there is energy and emotion there, and I like to imagine the person doing the action of writing. Again, there is an individuality and concrete-ness to ink on paper that doesn’t exist on a computer, where I can cut/paste/delete at will, even dictate words to a smart computer, and everyone turns into Times New Roman. Now, by my own hand, I have this small collection of beginnings of things, some attempts at poetry, and some reflections all in one place. I can’t say specifically why it’s more special to me to have it handwritten (it would be more practical to have them typed already); it just is.

Last week I also thought often of why we need things like art and music and writing in the world: it teaches us empathy and reminds us that we all have our human imperfection in common. For the entire week I kept thinking about the stories behind the people at the grocery store, or why the checkout girl had a certain tattoo on her arm. I was mindful in a way that I forget to be sometimes when I’m with people I love the most, like Husband and family. I want to be that way more often — to be more aware that I am living my own story and in the stories of countless other people’s lives. What will we remember about each other when we meet again in the next life?

I find that when I really need guidance, God has this way of being super didactic in my life. But I’ll remind myself one more time to be sure: Be yourself. Be authentically you and no one else. Be confident in you and the stories you have to tell.

Yes. I will.


A Tale of Two Birthdays

That's my dog - another essential part of my family, of course.

On my birthday last April 15, I was in a convention center-turned-ocean of volleyball courts at an away tournament in Reno. I was coaching the girls’ club team I had been with for the previous five years, and somehow I had been saddled with carrying in the ball carts and ball bags. Some accident of the way our carpools had shaken out, I think. There were about a bajillion volleyball teams there, plus the coaches of those teams, plus the parents and families of the players, plus the officials and tournament staff.

Husband was in Alaska starting his new job. My best friends were mostly in California or Ohio, living their regular lives. My immediate family was in Cincinnati and Philadelphia, respectively.

In spite of all of the people who were physically around me at the tournament itself, I felt so terribly alone. Now I’m not a huge birthday person — I don’t need to be showered with presents and feel the need to have big parties. But at the time I remember thinking to myself and telling Husband on the phone, “All I want right now is for someone who really loves me to hug me today.” I found myself crying and wishing to be anywhere else in the world near a loved one. (For the record, the day ended well and memorably, thanks to my fellow coaches, who insisted on birthday fun — I am grateful to them for that, more than they know.)

I wasn’t then, nor am I now, concerned at all about adding years to my life. With age comes wisdom that I cannot have any other way, and I appreciate that fact. But at the time and on that day, I was slightly petrified of the unknown future: how was I going to make it through 2.5 more months living apart from Husband? And finish packing up our apartment essentially by myself? And figure out where to live and what to do in Alaska once we did move? Thinking about all of that was overwhelming, and having a birthday only emphasized that feeling of inevitable, uncontrollable change.

Fast forward to this past Sunday, another April 15 in a new year. Husband and I were down in Anchorage, and we were curling together in a bonspiel (read: curling tournament) with family friends. After two victories and one loss, we lost our last game, but that was completely overshadowed by how much fun it was to do something together, to laugh and joke with our teammates and opponents alike at both the great and not-so-great shots. The drive home was beautiful, given the advent of Alaska spring and our 12+ hours of daylight that are continuing to increase each day. Plus we jammed to some of our old CD mixes in the car — does anyone even do that anymore? A simple day with my most favorite person — no gifts required.

We still have lots to figure out going forward, but right now I’m not petrified the way I was a year ago. I have had a year to learn the virtue of “surrender,” as my great friend just wrote to me, even while facing a whole plethora of new challenges and uncertainties. I actually have a better sense of myself now and an ever-growing appreciation for the gift that is my family community, made by blood and by bonds of love & friendship that time and distance apart only strengthen. I understand better that making crazy, unexpected leaps sometimes is just part of the process of living a full life. I remember telling my friends that my plan before moving to Alaska was to just “flow with the Universe,” and so far the results have been solid. What a difference a year can make.

Every birthday I am more certain that the present I always want and wish for is time with my family and friends. Sometimes that time comes on un-birthday days, and they are no less special then. Reading the cards that arrived in the mail today reminded me yet again that I already have everything I need: Love in its best forms. And that holds true no matter where I might be in the world on April 15.


Learning to Adapt

The past two weeks or so have been quite a learning experience. I have challenged myself to blog on a daily basis, and on some days I am bursting to set out an idea that has been percolating for a bit. On other days, like today, I find that I have to collect myself and think about the story of my day before I can begin. Thus, the story of my day:

Wake up & shower. Go to a Saturday professional development session (Kagan training, Day 4), led by an excellent international Kagan trainer. Halfway through the day, break for lunch with six other staff members who are also at the training. Wrap up PD and go home with Husband, but stop to get ice cream first. Decompress and watch the movie Miracle. Contemplate why it is that we live in a place that reached -49 degrees today.

For me the thread that links it all together is only one word: adapt. The verb is a synonym for the word modify, or to make something suitable for a new use or purpose, and it also means to become adjusted to new conditions. Moving out of the sunny comfort of northern California and bracing myself for this winter is most certainly an example of adapting. I can’t go anywhere without spare car keys, hats, gloves, boots, and some kind of heavy coat. I even have an action packer in the trunk space of my car with tow ropes, road flares, jumper cables, you name it. Just in case. In California I walked out of the apartment with barely a purse, and certainly never with the thought that I needed safety gear in case of a roadside breakdown. Much as I dislike feeling pasty (oh melanin, how you’re fading) and sometimes irritable for lack of Vitamin D, I feel safe and cozy inside the house with Husband and Pup-pup. Eating ice cream in this kind of cold is even more comforting than usual. I know also that when it gets back to anywhere near zero, or when we move toward 30 above come March-ish, I will be celebrating every single degree of extra warmth and every second of extended daylight. I will never again take summertime for granted.

The Kagan training, from 8:30-3:30 on a Saturday, was also an exercise in adaptation, of re-framing how teachers look at their classrooms. I could go on and on about the principles of this, but essentially it is around building a cooperative learning environment for kids. It requires the teacher to learn a variety of structures and tools, but it is possible to plug in any content from any subject or skill into any of said structures. The result, once the students have become familiar with the structures, can be a rich, collaborative classroom that engages all kids while still holding them accountable on an individual basis. When I heard of Kagan last summer, I thought, eh. Now that I’ve been through multiple days of training, I find myself thinking about how I might incorporate some structures into my 30-minute lessons to help students process information. I’m wondering how I can encourage the teachers I work with to use Kagan structures for a variety of purposes in their own lesson plans. Another adaptation.

Last but not least, we have the movie Miracle. Definitely up there on my list of phenomenal sports movies, like one of those that makes me cry no matter how many times I’ve seen it and know exactly what’s going to happen when. Damn that Disney for playing on my emotions so expertly. For the entirety of the movie, coach Brooks prepares the 1980 USA Men’s hockey team for the inevitable face-off against the Soviet Union — the world’s most dominant hockey team at the time. He teaches them to adapt their style of play to more closely emulate the Soviets in order to attack them; that is, to give the Soviets a taste of their own medicine. Sounds simple enough, but it takes seven long months of training and practice and team-building to reach their point of victory. The new team has to adapt to each others’ personalities; they all have to adapt to their coach; the coach’s wife has to adapt to his fierce work ethic; etc. Adapt, modify, change… in order to accomplish newer and greater goals.

To adapt, in my mind, is to find new purpose for familiar things. To take what you already know and apply it in a new context, under a new set of circumstances. It means regularly being uncomfortable while learning something new, since the learning curve always dips before it rockets skyward again. I think that if Husband and I had continued to live in California, we would not have had to adapt to much other than the rising cost of living. Right now in Alaska, everything is new for me. The winter cold. Curling league. Drive-through coffee stands (which I love). New colleagues. Making new friends. While I’m still in the process of adapting and learning to do as the Romans do, I realize that this is a huge opportunity for growth. And if we are here right now, I trust there is a greater Purpose already in place that we are discovering as I write.