the winning rule

sixty four squares of alternating
light and dark, your journey will
not cross all of them, stand
your ground, obstacles will find you
be swift, but the number of the
fallen will pale if there is no
strategy to make the kingdom
yours, grit is not measured by
outliving but rather
persistent patience in evaluation
deliberation and action

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Tropical Disappointment in Waning Shower

It was quiet walking down the Main Street of Metuchen. The overcast and drizzling day forced everyone indoors. Rich and I hurried to a local café, Cai’s café, to get some drinks. As we walked, Rich held my hand and guided me forward as I peered into every little mom and pop store on the block. The massage place had two Asian men sitting in the shadow of the window looking out desolately. A travel agent talked intensely on the phone as she manned the office by herself. Next to the agency, a hardware store selling rugs and flooring had a man at a desk slumped in his seat deep asleep.
It’s not easy running your own business.
Finally, we reached our destination. Rich opened the door for me and I stepped into warmth. We walked up to the barista, second couple in line, Rich looked at the menu and I looked around.
The first time we’d met at Cai’s was December 6, 2016. It was pouring, dark and wet that night but inside was bright as the sparkle in our eyes to see each other. We’d chosen a table with two barstools and we’d sat close together that our knees were touching. He was wearing his Rutgers sweatshirt and a black jacket over it. I was wearing leggings and a green, black and gray contemporary lined sweater dress. We talked about the story I wrote, we talked about his ideas for his story.
Today, the lighting was dim with gray and white ornaments hanging from the ceiling to add to the atmosphere. On the left was a lending library that had grown to fill a four feet bookcase. Every seat in the house was filled.
Rich chose his drink out of deduction of ingredients. I tried to do the same. He chose a Nutella hot chocolate and I chose a Tropical smoothie. He was pleasantly satisfied, I was – not.
My ingredients were pineapples, oranges, bananas, orange juice and yogurt – I should have questioned the last two ingredients more. They didn’t bring the smoothie together at all; the yogurt sat like an ice block at the bottom, the overwhelming taste of orange juice made the smoothie tangy. The drink got the color from the pineapples – and the threads.
As we left sipping our drinks, I grumbled about the point of trying new things when it brings disappointment. But I had to bite my tongue. It’s a risk and sometimes you can be surprised.
Earlier today, my parents took me out for lunch to a little vegetarian restaurant, Honest, on Oak Tree Road. I chose a favorite meal of Indochinese complete with Schezwan rice and delicious Manchurian balls (spiced cabbaged glazed in garlic and onion). A definite recommendation to all easing into Indian cuisine, I will also recommend another new drink I had today: a Falooda. An Indian version of a bubble tea, it’s made with milk, vermicelli and basil seeds and syrup of flavored choice. I had a Rose Falooda today. So smooth and delicate, it was true to its flower name!
So I had a good experience and a not-so-good experience with a drink. Every experience will have a 50/50 chance and the only way of knowing is if you try it out. And the experience you have need not be limited by one factor.
I had a fabulous lunch and I had a great time with my parents talking about my recent writings and classroom tensions. This afternoon, I didn’t have a great drink, but I was happy to be holding Rich’s hand walking down Main Street. I let him take a sip of Tropical smoothie and he tried so hard to look impassive it made me laugh because I knew his palette matches mine. To make up for it, he let me have some of his Nutella hot chocolate. I felt cozy.
As we walked back to the car, I peered once again in the shops of local businesses. The hardware man was alive now, talking on the phone and watching us walk by. The travel agent was shuffling papers and had a long face. I couldn’t bring myself to look into the massage shop.
I hope they all get new experiences soon, be it more business or an experience to laugh about, I hope the sun shines brighter on Main Street tomorrow.

Dear Class of 2018

As midterms roll around the corner and the turning weather beckons spring break, does it all feel different in your final semester?

I always wonder. I never went into my last year knowing I would graduate. I thought I had four years. But in my sixth semester, after a tumultuous discussion with my parents, it was decided I would graduate a year early. I’d already completed my psychology major but had no intention going to graduate school and picking up a second English major didn’t seem promising to my parents.
Suddenly I was a boat without paddles or water.

A mental tug of war of personalities, I was a party girl and a committed writer. I didn’t know what was coming next.
Ironically that prepared me the most.

Some of you will be lucky. You will have a plan and a determination to stick to it. You will have a job before you graduate, a trampoline for you to enjoy your hard work and success.

But some of you will be lost. That’s okay – you’re about to learn so much. Just never stop trying.

It’s easy to give advice. That’s not my intention. Nor is it my intention to say my life is great. It’s not – it’s like everyone else’s – lot of hard work, effort and reward. If I can make it, then so can you.

When I graduated in 2016, I wasn’t proud of myself. I didn’t walk in the ceremony because I didn’t think I had anything to celebrate. Two years later, I don’t think that anymore.
I was twenty and in my first ever relationship that my parents didn’t support. After living on my own in college, I didn’t want to live with them and have a curfew. But all I had was a lowly Bachelor’s degree in psychology. It didn’t bode well for me on the job market and thus having freedom. But –

– I had a lot of varied work experience. Even if you don’t think you’ll get the job, you have to put yourself out there.
– Elaborate on a detail about yourself. Are you always on time? That’s responsibility. Are you focused? That’s efficiency. Do you organize group hangs knowing not all your friends will get along? You’re a budding strategist.
You have to believe in yourself before you ask anyone else to believe in you.
– Have a mindset growth. Are you garrulous and sometimes speak over others? Admit that you are zealous about your ideas but that you’re not a good listener yet. Do you hate asking for help? Take pride in your independence but be honest about working on being a collaborator.
– Sure confidence sells, but hiring teams are also built on recognizing earnestness. There is no perfect person – the hiring team just wants to know if your views, your personality, your vibe, your output will mesh with their company.
– Rejection will become life for a while. I couldn’t make it out as a writer because I was afraid of rejection. I still had to face it to get a job. I sent applications everywhere. From secretarial positions to school aides – but the silence I got matched my clueless energy. I wanted a job but I didn’t narrow it down to what I wanted to do.
– A job does not have to be a career. A career does not have to define you. But if you want full-time benefits, you’re going to have to choose doing something that you are interested in. It’s how I finally did my alternate route to teaching (The Alternate Route).
You know yourself the best. Be rational – aim for a sustainable field that matches your interests.
– You can love your job and still hate it some days. It’s like loving yourself. You’re awesome and sexy but sometimes you go ham with friends and drink a little too much and the hangover you get the next day? You are not proud. At. All. It’s okay. We all need to blow off steam.
– Fair warning: your first full-time jobs will not be ideal. My first full time job was a front desk secretary for an import and export business. I lasted a day. I was not interested and I realized being desperate for a job to pay for my lifestyle was not worth compromising my joy of production at work. My second full-time job was as a preschool teacher. I loved the kids and teaching was fun despite the awkward singing. But it was not in my job description to change diapers and I still had to do it. But I’m still grateful for that experience. Had it not been for the preschool giving me a chance to teach, I would not be teaching kindergarten today.
– When I started applying to elementary schools, I sent my resume to twenty-four schools in my district and neighboring districts. I didn’t hear back from a single one. I was a brand new teacher and no one wanted to take a risk on me. By fluke, I applied on Glassdoor to a school and within days they started the three part interview process. It was nerve racking. But they gave me a chance and for that I am grateful. I can’t forget that. See your job owes you nothing. You owe it everything you’ve got. So be a hundred percent sure that you’re going to give it your all. That’s when you reap the most rewards.
– Now, I love my job but it doesn’t mean it doesn’t get stressful. There are days I’m not sure if my scholars are learning anything. There are days when I struggle to follow the curriculum when the kids seem restless and need a brain break. But I have my coteacher and a supportive grade team who I can bond with. Who you work with will affect you. So get to know the people around you. You don’t have to be best of chums, but you should have someone you can be yourself with.

The one advice I will impart is that it is never to early to start saving. It’s a struggle constantly being mindful of eating out and going out to movies. I also have to take care of cats! Believe me I try to pamper both of them.
As a teacher, I use an app called Shoparoo that helps my school earn points when I upload pictures of my receipts. When I look back on the list, it helps me keep track of which category of expenditures has increased more than my liking. My bank, PNC, offers Virtual Wallet to students to help budget and even though I’m long past the days of being an university student, I continue to use it to be able to see a bar graph of my spending. Mentally it helps me curb spending in that department.
If you are more of a visual person, there are many more apps you can try according to Forbes.  I personally would recommend Mint. Available for both iPhones and Androids, its brightly colored visuals make money management more carefree. It’s a free app – an awesome way to start saving money! – and helps you plan a budget out. I used it while I was in college and was quick to notice and change my drinking habits with friends to spend on dresses instead. 😛
It’s a sad truth but you can’t survive without money. So just be conscientious about it.
As for the rest of adulting that is hinged on you getting a job – you’ll get one. Failing is necessary to build resilience needed to showcase you are a badass who won’t quit at the first sign of stress at work. Take it from me, I was a psychology major who took 12 credits per semester and did better in my writing classes than psych classes. I wasn’t a top dog student, but that’s exactly why I am a teacher. Studying hard is only one facet of a diligent person. It’s not about the studying as much as it’s about your willingness to not quit until you succeed.
As said before, my life’s not perfect. But I’ve built my freedom from ground up to date who I want, to be where I want and to go where I want. If I can do it, so can you.

sunrise

I don’t need an alarm to wake me. I keep my shades open. When the big star breaks the horizon, its brightness spills onto my bed. Facing the wall or the window, my room is washed with muddled hues of a grapefruit.

Forgiveness is like burning water and boiling it the same way routinely. A festering grudge takes effort to retain like a can of beans without a can opener. A damp towel you can’t shake off, your trip to the beach will always be tainted by the crab pinching your toe than the shells you collected.

When I was a little girl, my dad took my mom and me everywhere. His enthusiasm was my calm inspiration to daydream on long car drives and energy to keep walking on my own five year old feet when exploring.
I don’t recollect more. My prime flashbulb moments are fixated in the duration of the acme of my teens. Clanging cymbals of disagreements, no math homework help or driving lesson was without verbal talons streaking across each other’s hearts.

Clouds are amorphous. On stratus days, you’re a dulled kitchen knife. But puffy cumulus days, painting with shaving cream, giggle and wonder at all possibilities.

A sailor drifts on sea to value land and appreciate the waves that carry him forward.
I wouldn’t know how to drive if it weren’t for my father. I managed to pass calculus because of him. Today when I get frustrated at work, I call him on my drive home and he listens to me rant. I can’t tell him what’s in my heart and he doesn’t ask limiting any disapproval to be spoken. Instead, we watch hours of television together, our silent communication solid through our shared laughter and tears watching comedic shows and Hallmark movies.

For every negative comment, it takes five positive comments to bring you back to state of balance. My wavering self-confidence tells me there’s still gold emotion coins to be earned. But as sun shines fiercely marking a new day, striving to be positive will set a precedent of a mindset that will react with patience and acceptance – for myself from my own eyes.

just for me

I miss journaling by hand in a notebook. There was something sacred about scribbling away, feeling smooth pages gain texture by pen writing, closing a notebook and flipping through the pages that rustled with print.

I always keep a notebook with me. Sometimes when I feel alone in a group setting, I hide between my books. Nowadays I just write my weekly to do’s in there. Most of my writing is for teaching preparation and that is all saved on the Cloud. If I am to write anything else, I type. I find it efficient, the clackety sound of letter keys rewarding.

When I do write, I write here. Lately that’s been hard. I can blame it on how stressful work has been, between new academic changes and parent-teacher conferences, and special education integration in my classroom, but honestly at night when I have an hour to spare, I choose to watch tv instead. All I have to do is lay in bed and all the visuals do the rest of the work.

Email notifications from WordPress Discover shake me up: lately there have been a lot of advice posts. Those nag – remember why you started this page? Where are you now?
I still don’t have the recommended About Page. I’m still struggling with the big picture of what I want to write. And with sharing who I am.

When you write in a notebook, generally it is private. It’s a way to vent and reveal yourself. While others have a way to be free online, I don’t feel comfortable. Who am I and why are my words important?

They’re not. Before I wrote poetry and before I wrote stories, I wrote about my life. I like writing about my life to remember events. It’s a fear of mine: Alzheimer’s. Firsthand I saw the difference in my grandmother when she moved back in with my family when I was 14. The woman who raised me my first five years had become mum except to read the same prayers everyday. When I left for college my absence made her forget who I was; reminding her, she would stare at me in wonder at being older than four.
So I’ve written to remember. But lately I’ve let it slide. Writing takes up energy that I do not have all the time after all the work I do. Then there is the conundrum of wanting my writing to be out there but also feeling insecure about it.

Recently, there was a blogpost on Discover about a person who got 500 followers in a month. When I clicked on the article, I realized I want to be recognized. But it does not outweigh my desire to not sell myself.

I’m just a recorder trying to capture the gray areas of characters.

 

take my hand dearie

I’m going to be a cat mom!
Last Friday night I went to an animal shelter looking to offer my services to foster a cat, but I found myself falling in love with a two year old black American shorthair. Indigo was friendly, the first cat to lick my fingers on her own accord. Quiet and reserved yet welcoming of all belly scratches, I went home that night unable to stop thinking about her.
So I went back the next day. She was curled up in a little bed in a middle crate, but when Indigo saw me she started pacing in her little room. When I went over to pet her – made a beeline straight to her really – she kept trying to stand up on her hind legs. I realized quickly she wanted to be held and I picked her up in my arms where she nestled comfortably.
She’s my family now. In my head. In two days, I will officially be welcoming her home.
I’ve been waking up dreaming about cats, excited but there’s worry in it too. I fear I jumped in too impulsively and financially I will not be able to take care of her in the future. Here I am, living all by myself and just learning to pay all my bills, am I ready to take care of another life?
But I can’t imagine her in anyone else’s life. I want to give her the best life. I believe that desire will help me do just that.
Unfortunately, there’s another stress: I cannot tell my parents I am getting a cat. They believe that I will move in with them when my lease expires. They see me living on my own as an experiment that will teach me life is too rough and I will go back to them. They live in an apartment that doesn’t allow cats so they made it clear I couldn’t get one because what if I have to live with them again?
Yes, expenses are high – rent, insurance, grocery, electric and Wifi and on top of all this cat bills. But how can it be that I live on my own and I am still plagued by what my parents think of me?
I’m a loner girl whose only constant in her life was her parents. Yet, their love always feels conditional – like if I don’t meet their expectations they’ll stop loving me.
I didn’t tell them when I bought a car. I didn’t tell them I was moving out until I got my keys. I can’t tell them I will have a precious life I am responsible for. They see me as impulsive – and I am. But I follow through. How can I know what I am capable of if my parents fear hold me back?
I know being a cat mom isn’t like having an actual baby (thank goodness, nowhere close to that yet at 22), but I have so much love to give. If I can share a little bit of the little luck I have with a precious life, I have to take that chance.
My favorite quote is by Emily Dickinson: if I can stop one heart from breaking in vain, I shall not live in vain. I hope I can make that difference.

you have the power to make your dream come true

Do you believe in signs? I do. Sometimes it may be futile, but sometimes believing helps to be.

I like to think beyond the subconscious trying the process the day in dreams, there is advice and even hope. We all carry the good voice within us. But when we’re in the middle of a stressful period, we cannot access it until our whole body is at rest – during REM.

In the back of my classroom are bins of leveled books. One of the level C books is about spiders with very detailed pictures that makes me squeamish. So I try to avoid touching those bins. Unfortunately a lot of students are now at that level of reading. I can print all the C books but that’s a lot of paper wasted for the books we already have. So I tried yesterday to look for the book I needed. But when I saw the spider book, I jumped back terrified because I thought it was a real one instead. I made my coteacher retrieve the rest of the books I needed.

Apparently my mind did not want to let this incident go. In my dream last night I was in an aquarium with my students when I saw a spider crawling around. It was big and hairy, and I don’t want to name it only because recalling my dream makes me crawl in my skin. Yet, in my dream I boldly walked up to it and squashed it washing its yellow guts spill out and walked away.

Now, I know – how horrible to hurt a life that wasn’t really bothering me. But it was just a dream. Even after the bravery I displayed in my head, if I saw a spider right now I would scream and run away. But I do genuinely believe it was a sign. If I was capable of facing my fears in my dream I can do it awake too.

It doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll face spiders, but rather the stress of work. Today I am leading breakfast. This means I will be talking to 78 kindergartens about how their morning is, asking them questions to prepare them for the day ahead (they have a math assessment today) and lead them in chanting we will learn, we will succeed, we will change the world. It’s nerve racking to have so many eye balls on me and even more so the eye balls of the seven teachers who will be downstairs. Kids – they listen but they don’t judge. They’re still too curious and open-minded. But I find myself comparing myself to the other teachers – and that is something I need to squash like a bug.

Last night I went in my rant about criticism –  rebel strikes back   – I didn’t tie back to my whole point in the end. I drifted. I let my feelings carry out. I was so annoyed by being put in a position of feeling not a good writer because of my lesson plan creations. I will squash that feeling today too. Because I am a good writer, I can be better and I will be better.

What’s the spider in your life?