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Monthly Archives: December 2010

How fulfilling it is to be a TEACHER!!!!! Yesterday we had a reunion of student leaders of the Diversity Workshop Program from Blair HS. It was so sweet the way they ran out to the car when I turned up, gave me a group hug and wanted to know about my granddaughter, my book, etc. This love came from years of showing up every day, planning meaningful experiences for my students, listening, laughing, helping them find other teens who were having similar experiences, bonding, building skills to help others, learning to love one another on a deep level. It created a community among us that is very deep and real. We KNOW one another after years of leading “Hidden Identities” and “Speak Outs” together in the Diversity Workshop. We are an intense mutual fan club, based on years of very deep and meaningful work together in a crucial period of change for them….and ME!

They nursed me through that last difficult year of my formal teaching career when a particular administrator was trying to kill our workshop and the Peace Studies course, in the name of “teaching to the test” a la “Every Child Left Behind” mandates. I tried my best to remain kind and patient. I tried to apply all the conflict resolution skills I taught the kids, but my young friends knew I was suffering and were a great comfort. We did our best to preserve the wonderful program that had helped thousands of teenagers; but eventually it was stopped, transformed into a club that could no longer hold workshops in classrooms. It was necessary for me to remove myself, so that at least that remnant and the Peace Studies classes could survive with other teachers leading them.

My zen teacher would say “let go.” All things transform, change, pass. I have let go of the day to day classroom schedule, let go of running the powerful Diversity Workshop Program at my old school. When we let go, we allow new fresh sprouts to bloom. Every year, I had to “let go” of several hundred seniors I loved as they transitioned to college or work. The letting go was necessary, so that they could develop their own lives, their own gifts to the world. It was good practice and gave me so many more children to love. I am deeply grateful for my 27 years of formal classroom teaching and for all the other opportunities I have had to teach and learn throughout my whole life. May I remain a student and teacher until I die.

What a thrill to see each of these former students continuing the life transforming work of the Diversity Workshop in their lives and in work with other young people, with rape victims, with art, music, film, with immersion in other cultures and issues that need their insights, enthusiasm and love. They will always be part of me and I part of them.

The Diversity Workshop LIVES!

Dec. 27, 2010
Monday morning after Christmas! Husband back to work; my hands back to the computer. The “normal” rhythm returns – Monday equals a writing morning, then meeting, then a court appearance to support a friend in trouble. Before that early rising, journaling, Qi Gong and meditation together rather than leisurely coffee near the tree and an open-ended day of rest (yesterday). We had a wonderful holiday with family, full of gifts and a child’s excitement with snow and toys. Literal chestnuts roasting on an open fire and banana bread baking in the oven. Wonderful!

I am more at peace with the rhythms of my life today. Some days contain intense work, others more rest. Some are filled with people, interaction and excitement, others with a great deal of silence and reflection. Some indoors, some outdoors. Some warm, some cold and windy like today. These moments of calm after the intensity of holidays are good. Let me relax into them, appreciate and make use of the calm rather than long for constant stimulation.

There are so many expectations about holidays that extend to how we “should be” feeling. We feel whatever we feel at the moment. Feelings come, feelings go. We watch them in ourselves, curious about their origins or depth, poke at them, tickle them, dive into them sometimes. Feelings of fear, anger, attraction or repulsion can be so strong that we seem encompassed, carried. Emotions can drive us, move us to DO things.

However, one of the great revelations of my life is that I don’t HAVE to act on my feelings, that I have a choice. I must have been taught something about that restraint as a child, but I don’t remember. I might have been taught to suppress feelings, to resist them like demons inside me – a dualistic view of my self, my body, my feelings.

Today I chose to observe the feelings attached to the expectations of holidays and the feelings that come after all the excitement has diminished, let myself feel, learn from emotions and watch them pass. Relax, take it easy, stop struggling.

As for DOing, I turn to my book and WRITE.

ccho-December 21, 2010

It happened! The lunar eclipse and the beginning of the Winter Solstice! There are dozens of sites with photos. Here is a sample:

Enjoy! Happy Solstice! Happy Light!

Early tomorrow morning our world will experience an event that has not occurred in 372 years – a lunar eclipse that coincides with the Winter Solstice. Most of us will sleep through it. How often do I sleep through amazing opportunities in my life? Or sleepwalk, only vaguely aware of changes in my world, in my heart?

If I tell my body to wake me for this event, will it? (I never use alarms, don’t believe in them). The short days are difficult for me and for many animals. The bears learn to stop urinating all winter and hide in caves. Some frogs become totally frozen to survive the cold. My body and my spirit respond so automatically to changes in light and temperature. But I also protect myself against the long winter nights: I wear long underwear, turn on lots of lights and read more novels. But tonight this incredible reversal begins that will lengthen the days and shorten the nights until the longest day of the year in June.

Amazing that the universe adjusts, changes and takes care of itself without human input. I am part of Life much greater than my small body. I am connected to the moon and can participate in this dance of life….if I am awake.

Photo by djmccrady.

This week I worked four mornings on my book…more editing of Ch 3, “The Journey to Loretto,” readying it to send to a friend at the Motherhouse who figures as a character in this period of my life. After the new Ch 1 (“The Action”), Ch 2 (“DC Women’s Detention”), my co-conspirator Catherine begins asking questions about my life in the convent, how I moved into political action. This segue device allows me to build the themes of religious and social awareness that give the plot meaning. I suppose using only three chapters of “backstory” is better than five. I know there is more work ahead to tighten up the plot, to keep it focused on the action, the “leadup” and consequences, while being true to the internal story of what is happening in my life as the events of the late sixties move me closer and closer to an irrevocable stand against the War in Vietnam.

Ch 4 now includes both the beginning of my civil rights involvement in 1963 and the nuns’ attack on the St. Louis police station in 1968, following the thematic story of my participation in the civil rights movement rather than the chronological one. How do I bring in all the events in Kansas City from 1964-67? Primarily as the other political threads of my development – working to stop poverty and war, in addition to racism? The story of my relationship with David Darst, a major catalyst to my own action in DC?

Novels get to move all over the place. Can I do that successfully in a memoir? Others have – Azar Nafisi for one. I also finished reading another Pulitzer prize winning novel – The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau – that hints at the ending but never gives it away, weaves and builds a story by telling it from the viewpoints of three main characters. She keeps to a basic chronology but also develops the theme by saving key pieces of information for the ending. Good fiction and non-fiction can skillfully weave a story without adhering to a strict chronological line. Next I’ll focus on the relationship with David, my admiration of him as teacher, my own development in “teaching with my life,” his action….leading to mine…..then I’ve sort of covered the main things necessary to moving forward with the rest of the book. It can be refined, edited, but I’m close to having a completely different approach that starts with the central action, develops theme and plays with a different approach to chronology.

It may or may not be the one that editors and publishers prefer, but I will have it to offer as an alternative to strict chronology, a version that focuses on “exciting” actions for our action-oriented audience.

Have you writers out there ever struggled with this question of theme and chronology? I suppose the Zen approach would be that every moment of our lives contains all of human history – past, present and future.

Photo by lambertwm


For the last six mornings, I have worked on my book. I have felt very productive. Sunday we had an “art camp” session with Pat creating new guitar pieces downstairs while I wrote upstairs in the office. We find it helpful to carve out special days when we support each other in our art. Then on Tuesday and Thursday, I missed my regular meditation group due to concern that I would become ill again from the freezing temperature in the room. I stayed home to meditate and do Qi Gong with Pat, which gave me two extra mornings to work. Morning is still my best, most productive writing time, but it has been quite a while since I have had six in a row to write.

My writing had been interrupted by illness but also by the quandary about how to continue the book if I take the suggestion of my teacher to begin with the DC-9 action. This would be my fifth version of Chapter One. I know that the reader needs a dramatic beginning to be drawn in, so I plunged right into the “action”:

Hearts beating fast, almost in unison it seemed, the nine of us circled in a group hug in front of the glass doors of the Dow Chemical lobbying office on 15th and L St. NW, Washington, DC. We were close enough that I could smell Art’s breakfast coffee on his breath and Bob’s cologne as we gave each other our last embrace and smile….

Part of what had me stumped was the dilemma of “explaining” what we were doing and why without the five chapters that had preceded this one in the first four drafts of my book. Would readers understand who we were, why a nun, ex-nun, draft resister and six priests would be destroying Dow property? Not only my personal background, my reasons for joining the convent, my gradual politicization process but also the background of the anti-war movement, changes in the Catholic Church, everything before this defining moment would become “back story.” Was it really the right place to begin? Or a sacrifice of meaning to drama?

I hope I have found a way during this week of hibernation, intense writing, reorganizing and pause in my blogging to flow from the DC Nine action to scenes that happened in earlier historical periods. I did this by answering questions posed by Catherine Melville in DC Women’s Detention Center about my convent experience and political development. I found myself able to experiment with letting go of the earliest two chapters on my childhood, education and religious upbringing (although the old versions will be gifts to my family). By Friday, I had finished a fairly major revision of the first four chapters with more “showing” than “telling,” more dialogue, more scenes. I will proceed with chapter five on Monday.

Although this reworking of the beginning of the book has been extremely time consuming and difficult, Pat reminds me of Robert Fripp‘s aphorism “We begin again constantly.” Perhaps this is a metaphor for life.

Has there been any “beginning again” in your life?