“you’re in the right place.”

“you’re in the right place.”

The last thing I wanted to do was to start travel blogging.

I find blogs not exactly my style. I can write them, mostly if other people ask me to, but when it comes to my own website and creative projects, blogging can sometimes feel like pulling teeth. Maybe it’s because I’m driven by emotion. Give me blood-dripping feeling and my fingers fly. Listacles, how-to’s, and having a straightforwardly clear “message” for “the reader” to “leave with” stab like a knife to my soul. I, personally, don’t understand what I’m writing most of the time. And I believe in the hands-off approach with people in general; let them interpret how they will. Writing, after all, is a communication stream of infinite facets. At any point in time, we’re bound to understand differently, based on where we are in that exact moment.

So a little over a week ago, I landed in India where the days seem to spawn weeks. Something I never used to think about before, like getting safe drinking water, becomes a day-long affair here (in my alternate universe, where each day consists of seven), and I oscillate between taking classes, venturing out into the sun to run an errand here or there, and holing up in my apartment, either cooking or spending far too much time on the Internet researching things like whether or not I can fly direct from India to Hawaii, and far not enough time writing.

My roommates — another reason not to leave my apartment!

I arrived to the airport in Delhi and immediately regretted my decision to come here. As I had been for weeks prior. Hardly anyone I spoke to would listen to my qualms. Even my therapist brushed aside my hesitations, saying (as did most) that I was in for the “trip of a lifetime” and she “was slightly jealous”. It’s interesting how we all seem to want to be where we are not.

So I spent the night in the Delhi airport, before leaving first thing in the morning for Bangalore. I had no printed ticket for my third and final flight; in America, this is something they give you at the ticket counter when you check in. Not so in India. To get to the ticket counter, I had to pass through several lines, each of which required a printed ticket. I stumbled through the lines before I was blocked several times. I was beginning to have flight anxiety. Asking anyone who resembled someone-who-might-know-something where I could get a printed ticket, I was directed in multiple angles, all with a vague wave of hand and a head nod, a language I have yet to speak. I walked outside and was hit with a smog so intense my lungs closed, and then I fell into my default, of course, which is to cry.

I finally made it up several rounds of stairs, to a desk behind a glass wall, where I hoped that my ticket could be printed. On complete autopilot, as I had repeated the same question many times, I told the man sitting behind the desk that I needed a copy of my ticket, and here was my flight information. I handed him the tickets to my first two flights as well as my phone, on which I’d managed to find some kind of outline of an airline travel itinerary, while asking him, “Am I in the right place?”

The man looked at me, no doubt noticing my clear disarray. He began checking things on his computer, spending what felt like hours glancing between my phone and his screen, before finally giving me a meaningful look and saying, “You are in the right place.”

He printed something out and pointed to another line I would need to stand in to get my actual ticket.

As he handed me my old tickets he said, “Nice quote.” At first I didn’t know what he meant, thinking I’d heard “Nice coat,” so I said “Oh, thank you.” I think he could tell I was confused because he clarified, “Nice quote,” gesturing toward my ticket this time.

Sitting on my first flight to Canada, I had scribbled a lyric from a song I’d been listening to that spoke to me, thinking the ticket stub to be garbage only to realize later, with a tinge of embarrassment, that I would have to hand it to no less than six or seven other people in various travel lines, to get onto flights and with inquiries and such. No one else had commented on it.

The quote reads: “Cause with you always feels like home.”


Lately, finding a home has been a priority. I feel caught between places. I’ve tried living in different areas and nowhere feels like quite a fit, and I know the next place I go needs to feel like more of a fit than the last because of how hard this last year was for me and how deep of a depression I fell into. I need to find a home; I need roots. I’m filled with meaning but I’m rootless and so it’s been difficult for me to direct that meaning in a sustainable way that doesn’t deplete me of energy. The next place I land needs to be for myself and not for anyone else and it needs to be a place in which I can thrive. These are all big pressure-points building and when it comes down to it, painful feelings to experience.

I hope no one else has to feel the way that I feel, lately.

Coming to India is another in-between stop along the way to finding a home, so really it’s just another leap of faith.

My first week here has been filled with doubts, even wondering if I could leave early, but then realizing, yet again, that I don’t know where I would go if I did. So I’m committing to myself to stay for the three months I signed up for and taking things one day at a time which is really all any of us can do in any given moment.

And with this faith-leap, I have to remind myself, constantly, “You are in the right place.”

It always looks prettier from the outside-in and it always seems more magical in retrospect.

And just because I’m looking for a home, I’m well aware that I most likely won’t find it. At least not the kind of home or in the ways in which I’m looking for it. It’s always the things we don’t seek that fall into our laps unexpectedly and magically and oh-so-perfectly.

Maybe I’m not meant to find a long-term home, just yet. Maybe I need to wander a bit longer.

Maybe I didn’t come to India for any of the reasons I anticipated. I had been starting to heal in San Francisco, and my last week there I had a non-toxic place to stay, and I began to love the city once again. I had a healing support system there, and I had taken great measures to remove what wasn’t working for me.

I came to India with zero expectations but some inklings of what I might-need-to-watch-out-for and what maybe-might-happen-here and I can tell already that the above is probably not going to actually happen, at least not in the ways that I thought they might. Maybe I came for other reasons rather, which will most likely not be revealed to me until years later, if ever.

While here I’ve already found some healing avenues similar yet different from those I had in SF, so I’m exploring these as we speak. I want to think that I can cure myself of depression once and for all, but maybe instead this latest bout of depression is a necessary step along my twisted path. Fighting against my own mind takes up way too much of my energy so I may as well make friends with it. Even when my mind tells me scary things like that I have no place here and I don’t belong. Friends can be scary sometimes. Especially those closest to us. And there is no closer friend than myself.

I don’t have answers, only questions, many of which I’m tired of asking, so I think right now I’ll continue to repeat the mantra “You’re in the right place,” even (especially) when it feels like I’m not.

premature nostalgia, and living in the present.

premature nostalgia, and living in the present.

In life there come times and places for change and transformation to occur, often cyclically. My life so far has been a whirlwind of such cycles of change, and as I find myself facing an upcoming journey, I have been preparing for yet another move, per usual to an eventual destination unknown. I believe plans to be overrated. Personally I find the more I try to force a happening as a piece of an idea my brain has decided should happen, the more it doesn’t feel like a fit. I much prefer to set clear intentions for how I want to live my life, and then allow the universe to present the opportunities to me in the right moments.

Last week as I cleared a bookshelf in the hopes of removing it and all the books I had hoped I would read, I came across old journals, which I began flipping through out of curiosity for what I might find.

I landed on pages from a few years ago, when I spent my days at my possible height of whimsical creativity, writing fairy tales every day and scribbling messy maps of each story beforehand outside the lines of my notebook, in my style, which is mostly indecipherable to nearly everyone else. My mind immediately traveled back to that point in time—how alive and free I felt, how bright-eyed and full of hope.

There’s this funny thing about nostalgia. It never exists in the present. Except for the present form of premature nostalgia I am currently experiencing, on the brinks of leaving this city I have grown to love and dislike in the same exact breath. My mind has already transported itself to a future state, one in which my present is past. I watch through the futuristic lenses I have taken to wearing, absorbing bits and pieces of a landscape I know I will feel nostalgic for down the road. The anticipation of nostalgia is enough to drive anyone wistfully crazy.

I love walking through my neighborhood in the sunny evenings, meeting new puppies with crystal blue eyes and watching children riding on the backs of tandem bicycles with orange tutus flying in the wind. I love climbing the hill that I can see from my window, watching as it turns different shades depending on the time of year. Green to brown to red to gold to brownish-green again.

I love the cafés, farmers markets, healing avenues, friends, teachers, and community I have found here. I feel as though I’m already watching my life in this place through a microscope of reminiscent remorse—remember when? And that one time, how we (fill in the blank)? Living in the space where beauty and growth and so-much-else happened?

The funny thing about nostalgia is she firmly resolves not to give the slightest bit of notice to anything less than the level of goodness she wants to believe. Her rose-colored lenses block out the heartbreak I was unknowingly experiencing, as well as a toxic learning experience I skipped right into, wearing a berry jacket with the hood up, emanating the innocence of Little Red Riding Hood in more ways than one during the peak of my fairy tale days years ago. Premature nostalgia is quick to forget about how I cried at least daily, for a year here. How within this city I found myself wishing, desperately, I could disappear.

I’m discovering nostalgia doesn’t only exist as past remembrance. It also happens in the present, particularly on the brinks of future change. It reminds us of why we may not truly want to change, because we kind of like our lives as-is for xyz reasons.  Anticipated nostalgia keeps us resistant to both moving forward and truly embracing the moment we are in.

These prematurely nostalgic thoughts do not serve me. It’s like when we’re about to leave a job that we’ve complained about for years, but suddenly the boss doesn’t seem so bad and the perks appear to outweigh the cons.

Any kind of change is scary, particularly one that clears out all things from our lives—both what we love and what we don’t love so much. But we can take the aspects we love, such as the feeling of walking up the hill at sunset, or the discovery of lying in a luscious patch of green grass in the late-summer sun. We can hold these bits of time in a pocket in our hearts, to return to whenever our memories recall the feeling of it. And I believe we can do so without nostalgic remorse, but from a place of loving understanding that the exact state of being we recall, while beautiful, can be beautifully remembered in the present, rather than with longing to return to a time passed.

Because the point of life is to stay present to it. And through the melancholy of my nostalgia, both from a time long-gone and the anticipation of it, I lose the ability to be present, as well as to embrace my life in its current form.

Now that I recognize the premature nostalgia standing on my reluctant shoulders, I can turn my head and give her a light smile and a nod. She understands the meaning, and already knows it’s time to leave. She’s clouding my ability to fully enjoy my last few weeks here. The seeds she scatters do not allow me to step, fully, into this moment and the place of change happening.

And so, moment by moment, I can choose to be presently involved again, living free of nostalgia for the past or even the future-past present.  


please don’t call me when you’re lonely.

The water feels perfect this time of year. There’s hardly anyone at the beach, and you know that’s the way I like it.

Why is it that for some of us, it feels like therapy getting tossed around by waves, yet when we’re tossed around by humans in curiously mountain-shaped cities, it takes us weeks upon years to recover?

Why is it that some of us would rather travel alone than have to explain to others how we feel inside when real-life things happen and we go on living anyway? How we feel in the still, silent aftermath of the storm, when we thought you might, but then you didn’t, call? How the feelings continue to come and go like waves, yet some settle longer than others, a froth of messy bubbles over dirty sand.

Please don’t call me when you’re lonely. Please don’t use me as yet another distraction, a drug to numb the pain. You say you feel better when you’re with me, and I with you, and at the end of the day, we all need rejuvenation, but sometimes that word means different things to different people.

I deserve more. I deserve someone who feels as happy as I do in a solo dance among the waves, free of company barring a crew of seagulls, with one of whom I play an enchanting game of I see you, bird between wave and bag and back again. Food’s all gone, and you can’t have my words. Birds are smarter than they look, you know. They used to say that about me.

So you know that dream, the one you’ve been telling me about for years? Please fly away and go do it already. Because nobody else will ask you to, and the only person waiting is yourself.

And when you do it, I hope it shakes and stirs you like the balloon I rescued from the ocean today, on a journey of questionable length, time, and distance, but still holding air.

When you make it back to shore, I can’t tell you I’ll still be around, but I promise I’ll always listen.

Most of all, I hope the dream unmasks you. Down to the bone. Because I woke up one day and realized that we’re only friends when you’re homesick, and in the moment I didn’t think I’d make it, I was gasping for air while grasping hands with a ghost.

Thank you for unknowingly creating this moment, because in it you shone a light on the one thing I needed most to know — that I can write whatever the f*ck I want to. Even the curse words that make me cringe, in their raw staleness of sheer too-much-feeling.

We’re taught how to be happy on the exterior, but we aren’t taught what to do with our anger. We aren’t taught how to channel it into a wave-ridden dance or the safe space of words. We’re taught to suppress it deep in a lockbox hidden within our chest before we throw the key out to sea. For which I’ve been swimming for centuries, uncertain I’ll ever find it.

Regardless, my alien story has value, as do my hopes and my dreams. So, for you, I hope that you find what you’re looking for. And for me, I dream of something more. Because I deserve someone who does not merely tolerate my rawness, but loves it.

Someone who holds his palm outstretched with the hopes of carrying my dripping heart. Who understands anger without need for words. Who understands how the anger dissipates from the tops of the waves, and that the more time I spend alone with the ocean, the closer I get to perhaps recovering the key to the locked box inside my heart.

I deserve someone who wants to walk alongside my wave-shattered body, together in our mutually respective aloneness.

The space you gave me, all those years ago, when you didn’t call, wasn’t out of love or respect or even friendship; it was for yourself. I do believe love is created from space and deep breaths of air, but I’m discovering the difference between air I want to breathe and that which my lungs can do without.

It may have something to do with mountain-shaped cities, and beaches without humans and with only the underrated intelligence of birds.



This piece was published on Rebelle Society.

what we’re searching for when we run away

Five years have passed.

I watch the video we made 1,825 long, short days ago and it makes me feel a sad twist of melancholy.

I’m swinging on the wooden plank in front of my parent’s house and can hear your laughter in the background. My hair falls into my face as I dance in and out of shadows of light between the tree branches. The glint in my eye reflects your smile.

How in over my head I was back then, without even knowing it. How far-too-deep I’d plunged. I’m still carving my way out from that hole. And five years later, everything and nothing has changed.

It doesn’t need to make sense. Sense is an overrated, slimy-bodied beast. The more I try to find her, the slippier her scales, until I’ve swum so far in, I can no longer see the surface. An eery, green glow surrounds me. Are these your waters? Or mine? I’ll never know. Have I learned anything from this ordeal?

I’ve learned how to run.

Today I’m still running. I run from the feeling of aliveness you bring. I run from the sense I could stay up all night. I run from the idea that anything is meant to be. Because what I’ve learned most from this mess is that we humans, we f*ck up. We let our heads get in the way. We overthink, we hold back. And most of all, perhaps, we try to force the letting go.

You’ve never once held me back from my state of perpetual running. When left with space, we start to wonder—what is it that I want? Do I want you to love me? Yes. Do I want you to care? Yes. Do I want to love you back? Yes. Denying these three would be living within a delusional shield. You know me; I’ve never been one for masks.

And deep down, the teensiest bit of me, however small (or large), always wants to be saved, rescued, carried away from this ordeal. So I guess what I’m really looking for, in all of the running, is freedom. Freedom from a love that ties me down. Freedom from desire. Freedom from thought. Freedom from worry.

I don’t know if I’ll ever find it.

So, I keep running. From you, from me, from it all. And when my legs have tired and cannot carry on a moment longer, I leave my house for a walk. Wandering through streets I can no longer see, you whisper in my ear, asking to come along. At first, my mind tells you no, as I did last week when you called. I was emotionally drained, in a dark place. It was too hard.

But now I’m too tired to resist. I’ve screamed and pounded my fists against these walls for too long. My shoulders release for the first time in 260 weeks. And just like that, we’re arm-in-arm. We walk and I tell you of the things that I’ve found. I tell you about the feeling. I allude to the hole. You don’t say much in return.

Life has changed us both, and just like that, I realize the feelings are gone. I had battles prepared, in my mind, for when I would see you again. Yet all it took was a brief pause from the run. I release your fingers, one by one. I walk away carrying a weird sense of empty. Tired, but rejuvenated.

It’s funny how we place so much meaning on intuitive flashes. Intuition told me we were meant to be. And so for years, I couldn’t shake the back-of-mind longing. No matter how hard I tried. And trust me, I tried. I wanted the sensation I once had around you and you alone—that I was floating. But today, as we walked and talked, ears pressed against a microscopic hole, your voice growing fainter and fuzzier, the butterfly landed by my feet. All this time, I’ve been looking for the wings to fly, not to float.

I had turned you into more than a person. In the words of John Green, “What a treacherous thing.”

We were great once, comfortably intertwined like a log on a river. Carried along a current not quite our own. But I don’t want comfortable. I do want to serve as an active participant in the story unfolding. I want to dance through the fire that shapes me into something new. I want to roll along clouds of laughter.

I want to scream and for you to actually hear. As I somersault my way out of this place, I reflect on how much mental energy you’d been invisibly consuming, all this time. Thoughts take up space and emotions are carried in the body.

It’s amazing, and freeing, and scary, all in one. What to do with the space? Where to fly from here?

I’m finally ready to find out.


This piece was published on elephant journal

dancing across loneliness: the end of beginnings and the hope of goodbye

I’m so exhausted now.

My fingers can hardly make their desperate crawl across the page. My brain feels weary; my bones feel weak.

12 months ago, we met with dancing eyes and an open ear.

365 days dripping ink in a spiral-bound leap across letters.

Emotional. Heated. Sensitive. Empathic.

Sentences upon chapters of words such as these. Of which only two ring true today: The End.

I knew in your first smile, the finale already written. We spoke, and I heard mountains. We walked with interwoven fingers and a mismatched pace.

Myself, scrambling to keep up.

Amid the peaks and the valleys, I learned the detriment of attraction. I blamed myself, mostly. My brokenness pulled you in.

These laws have no limits by romantic whirlwinds, nor in the fated encounters of soulmates.

The mirror applies universally.

What we both feared most, about me, was my truth.

As I try to make sense of it, even in the tornado still, bits and pieces circulate. Objects flying, a mayhem of colors and textures.

Tires treading over used needles. Shimmering screens and a glittering bridge.

A routine of movements too practiced to be perfect.

The foggy dawn peeking around a golden hill.

My thoughts have racked through every possible meaning. I ran a marathon of reasons before collapsing, five seconds from nowhere.

Now that you’re gone, I expected to feel better. I thought I would spring back like a sponge. I never imagined I would lie, withered and dry, scratchy edge in a kitchen sink.

I cleaned every one of your dishes until I had nothing left. I poured rotting residue down a silky drain, even as we both openly ignored what doing so meant for the both of us.

It was the pop of that last green bubble which pushed me over the edge.

Water coming down for days. I cried out all of your tears.

My eyes washed away each of your layers. This skin was never mine to don.

In the buttery, iron taste of the aftermath, food will not fill me. A pill will not clear me of this, and sleep does not always lend itself to rest. The frothing surface of lingering promises shields the unknown sediment, sinking below. Every lie we tell ourselves haunts me, ripping apart my heart.

They tell me to keep smiling like their sense of worth depends upon it. Yet they hide from the reality that every smile has a twin frown, lying frozen on the floor.

They gladly lick off my tears, walking away with a spring in each step.

They leave me here, engines roaring past, and a ticking clock.

Amid these noises without and within, I, strangely, have no regrets.

I lay in bed for days, listening to the drop of rain and smelling the faintest hint of cinnamon.

Maybe tomorrow I will feel differently. Today, all I feel is the emptiness of having fought a battle I never knew I was a part of. The loneliness of the end, and the hope of goodbye.

As we part ways, I feel numb to past events.

Yet even still, I thank God for it happening. Because with every word written, I feel the seed deepen, within my breast.

You can take away my time, my energy, even my fleeting sense of self.

But you can never take my voice.

You can never have my heartbeat.

All along, I’ve been echoing the world’s question, How is this of benefit? Sleek distraction from what we’re all, really, too afraid to ask.

How is it not?

With every learning, there live equal parts unlearning.

And maybe the key doesn’t lie in the lessons after all.

Maybe the answer, rather, is the question being asked.


This piece was published on Rebelle Society.

what dreams are made of

what dreams are made of

I write poems for people. At parks, cafés, craft shows, art markets, and even sometimes (rather creepily) on the bus.

I fell into this accidentally. Initially, I held resistance to the idea. I thought people would hate it, or that it would be too much pressure to write on the spot.

But then I gave it a try and found that I love being able to share myself and connect with others in this way. I love the look on people’s faces when the words give them the space to feel heard, or seen, even if just for one moment.

Despite my love for this endeavor, it still surprised me when, at a pop-up craft show, someone I met said to me that I am “living the dream.”

I’ve gone through phases where it felt like the life I wanted to live was falling into place, quite effortlessly. And in those fleeting moments I was quick to forget the years of hard work I put in, prior to the eventual flash of a free-fall.

It was easier to credit a mystical power operating behind the scenes.

In my experience, when things stopped falling into place, or it turned out the magic-seeming happenings all served part of hard fought, higher lessons I needed to face, I felt distraught and discouraged.

This was perhaps the hardest part. The initial leap was scary, sure, but the crawl that came afterward was a thousand times more exhausting. I felt like I was drowning, most days. Until it suddenly dawned that I had been swimming all along.

Despite my resolve to keep moving forward, stroke by stroke,  it still feels like I’m a ways away from any kind of dream life. So when someone else saw me living my (or maybe, even, his) dream, it caught me off guard.

There are common misconceptions I think many of us hold, about what living a dream means, and how it should or should not feel.

Because messages tend to appear in less straightforward ways, and often in patterns, one of the people who has taught me most about chasing dreams, my father, recently sent me a poem I wrote for English class, about this subject, when I was 12.

dream poem.jpg

Reading this I laughed. I remember stretching myself to come up with this idea.

I was never terribly interested in school. It felt too rigid for me.

And I somehow doubt that 12-year-old-me had a ton of experience, with dreams.

Or maybe she was just too busy living in a dreamland to accept the reality of what chasing her dreams meant.

Because you see, now I don’t believe a dream is like a scarf, at all, really. But I think this is an illusion many of us face. We grow up with an idealistic version of reality, where one day we will wake up with birds singing and the sun shining and everything as it should be.

We cannot wait to return to the dreamlike place our minds spin without end, of a life where everything feels perfect and effortless.

In reality, a dream doesn’t keep me warm, although perhaps it does offer the slightest glimmer of hope-filled light, in the cold, dark winter.

Dreams in their true nature meet us with a rush of wide-eyed awakening.

Once we take the leap into chilly water, the presence of our dreams, looming ever nearer, leaves us shaken, and stirred.

A dream will bring you right up against yourself.

As soon as we seek out the comfortable dream—you know, the one that seems to fall into place, well, that is when we can rest assured we’re in for a nightmare. Or in the very least, a rude awakening.

Dreams should not feel comfortable.

From comfort, breeds complacency. And stagnation is the opposite of growth.

Growth comes from screaming muscles and tear-drawn eyes. From staring fear head on in a face first dive, allowing the panic to erupt in my chest before I move through the sensation, anyway. I have no other choice.

When we have a dream that calls for the chasing, there doesn’t appear to be an alternate plan.

Years ago I committed to living from heart over head. This has not been easy, rather it has been stock-full of lessons I needed, for whatever reason, to face. Writing poetry in parks has served a small piece in the puzzled picture of this deeper commitment to myself. Which I guess explains why I didn’t initially see it as “living my dream” – the real dream has roots that run further than I can tangibly comprehend. And despite having the poetry-writing opportunity, that I am grateful I have been called to pursue, truth be told, there are still other factors in my life that I am waiting to “fall into place.”

I doubt this will ever cease to be the case.

Sometimes we spend years climbing a hill, for a once-in-a-lifetime view, only to realize, once we get to the top, there’s another hill calling us by name, down the road.

A dream is always a relative experience from the vantage point of current standing. Hence my surprise when it appeared, in someone else’s eyes, that I was living mine.

Perhaps so, from where he stands. In my mind, I’m forever still chasing the deeper meaning of the dream.

In this chase, we shed every unnecessary layer, including those composed of the things, both physical and intangible, we may or may not have grown up with. Because the true testament to how badly we want something is what we are willing to give up.

We let go of everything that does not align with our dreams, and then some. For in the end, the whole point is not, actually, the dream, itself. What we have been seeking all along is appreciation for the chase.

So, as the finish line nears in sight, we realize we long ago gave up our dream to begin with.

It was never about fulfilling yet another goal or achievement. It has always been about the journey.

Because the one similarity, I would say, between my 12-year-old, idyllic version of a scarf-dream, and what I understand of dreams today, is this: I firmly believe dreams are meant to be held (or, tied) loosely.

See where they fly, on their own.

A dream wrapped too tight chokes the words from my mouth.

A wish want with fervor contains no solid roots.

And we all need a grounded place to find nourishment. The substance that turns dreams into reality stems from Earth.

So we watch, as our dreams sprout and change shape and form. The textured body, once wisp-like, becomes hot lava. And then another day, it appears as a smattering of color unlike any we’ve seen before.

This new dream, in its assortment of shapes and sizes so different from that which we previously imagined, may even frighten us, a bit.

That is also, as it should be.

So for all you other dream-chasers who feel discouraged and worn down on the path, know that you are not alone. And when it gets exhausting, or even terrifying: good. Let’s together commit to continue moving forward.

I find, the closer I get, to any particular dream, the more urgently I want to run, or even to fly, away.

Fight or flight is real and it does not dissipate with time. The phantom appears, stronger, than before.

But, so am I.

And, I am ready. For my ever shapeshifting dream and its infinity of outpours.

big lessons from little humans


I didn’t learn the most about teaching from school, nor from any teacher-training course, internship, mentorship, or apprenticeship program. Rather, I learned how to teach from a three- and a four-year-old.

I was not originally meant to be their teacher, although I’m sure I did teach them a thing or two over the time I served as their nanny. However, the small skills I shared with them, such as how to use their “yoga breathing” when they were feeling scared, or that peppermint oil can salve tummy aches, or even how to make a healthier version of the age-old favorite dessert of dirt, worms and mud, dim in comparison to what they taught me.

Mae and Ryan taught me how to change my approach to reach different students. Consequently, I learned to distinguish what sets apart a good teacher from a great one.

A good teacher recites all the right lines—and does it on cue. A good teacher facilitates growth by inspiring his or her students to move further and go deeper.

A great teacher does something else. A great teacher listens, and then helps the student to realize the growth that he or she actually needs, in the moment he or she needs it. And a great teacher does this, not by imparting every bit of sage wisdom he or she has to give, but by meeting the student on his or her terms.

Ryan and Mae had stark personality differences. Ryan, age four, was a sensitive, artistic type. When Ryan was stressed, he needed a gentle, loving approach. As he told me one evening, “I need space.” So space is what I gave him, until he worked through his feelings.

Mae, on the other hand, was outgoing and confident, effortlessly taking command of the playground. What Mae needed most was strict boundaries underlined with firmness. It took me weeks to figure this out. Finally, one day, I’d had enough of her daily, end-of-school-day tantrums. She would throw her backpack, lunch box and various other belongings on the hallway floor, cry and refuse to pick them up as I juggled car keys, sticky hands, art projects and snacks.

This day, I felt an outside force come over me I told her, in a stern voice, to put her lunchbox in her backpack because I would not do it for her. Mae’s preschool teacher, whom I greatly admired, walked by as this was happening, looked me in the eye, and said, “Good.” In her gaze, I saw a newfound level of respect.

I felt the same sentiment emanating from Mae, later that day, when she sat on my lap and gave me a hug. We had crossed a threshold together; Mae now respected me, and from this place she was able to love me on a deeper level.

When I once took a stricter approach, with Ryan, the opposite happened. I could feel him pull away. Tough love created an invisible boundary between us. No longer sharing his bright ideas and creative thoughts with me, he grew quiet in the car ride home. Later, when he spoke to me, he said my name differently than before, with increased emphasis on the “t’s,” a four-year-old version of the subtlest form of mockery.

As teachers, our responsibility is to not only know the differences between the Mae’s and Ryan of the world, but to also honor this understanding by teaching each individual based on where he or she is. This means understanding when tough love will lift someone up—or when it will cause him or her to shut down.

The key to achieving this lies in sensitivity. I have been told countless times that sensitivity is both a burden I must work with and one of my greatest strengths. I never saw this quite so clearly until my experience with Ryan and Mae.

Nevertheless, having sensitivity as a natural tendency does not make using it any easier.

Setting firm boundaries with Mae was incredibly difficult, particularly because I, personally, would not have responded to such an approach. Staying soft with Ryan was equally difficult in the moments in which he frustrated me.

The most important aspect of teaching is that it can never be about the teacher.
Any kind of egocentric tendency to derive self worth from helping someone else (or imparting greater “wisdom”) results in a downward spiral of tunneled vision through which it is impossible to truly see the student.

In order to truly teach, teaching must always be about the student. This means taking a chameleon approach based on what works for each individual, even when that entails stepping outside of what feels comfortable. It also means investigating methods outside of how we were taught.

I am fortunate to have found a teacher who is attuned to the level of sensitivity needed to teach me. As she says, when considering whether to learn from a teacher, we should ask ourselves, “Who told the teacher to teach?”

For me, the answer lies less in whether that person’s teacher(s), told him or her to teach, although that is certainly important. I look more for the ability to listen on a deep enough level, to teach me in both my Ryan moments and my Mae ones.

This post was published on elephant journal.