Tag Archives: untethered as a cloud

Around the South in 14 Days: Summer Road Trip 2015 in Photos

This post is long over due. But better late than never.

On the morning of July 3, my boyfriend and I departed for a journey of epic proportions through the South Eastern United States. We endured humidity, heat, and endless hours in the car, but what we gained made every drop of sweat, every backache, and every sunburn worth it. Five thousand three hundred and seventy-three miles later, I have a new appreciation for the stunning beauty, diversity, and complexity of my country, and more importantly, I have a deeper love for and trust in the man with whom I share my life.

Here are some photos from our trip, along with a map of our route. I hope they inspire you to take an adventure, whether it’s to the other side of town, or to the other side of your own country.

Day 1: From Tucson to Houston (A 16 hour trip, all in one day. Texas is HUGE!)

Entering NM in Tree Pose

Day 2: Houston (No photos of Houston, sorry.)

Day 3: Houston to Memphis

Arkansas/Mermaid 1

Our breathtaking AirBnB in the heart of Memphis:

Memphis AirBnB

Day 4: Memphis (spent mostly at the Memphis Zoo, which is fantastic!)

At the Zoo

Meerkats!

MeerkatP1070120

Our Memphis Favorites:

Otherlands Coffee Bar (try the toasted muffins!), The Memphis Zoo (make sure to catch the bear feeding), the march of the Peabody Ducks (get there early!), and Memphis Pizza Café

Day 5: Memphis to Asheville

Crow Pose

Day 6: Asheville

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Our Asheville Favorites:

Mount Pisgah Campground (make sure to go on a hike!), and the Folk Art Center 

Day 7: Asheville to Savannah

Savannah in Savannah

Our Savannah Favorites:

Foxy Loxy Café (go for the Horchatta Latté), Fire Street Food (try the Savannah Roll), and Forsyth Park (bring bug spray)

Day 8: Savannah to Sarasota

Day 9: Holmes Beach (the location of my family reunion. That stunning woman at my side is my momma.)

Mom and MeGulfSunset

Day 10: Sarasota to Baton Rouge

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Day 11: New Orleans

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Our New Orleans Favorites:

Café du Monde (bring cash!), the Audbon Aquarium of the Americas, and Mr. B’s Bistro (save room for dessert— the bread pudding is divine!)

Day 12: Baton Rouge to Houston

P1070263

Day 13: Houston (Again, no photos. But certainly some precious memories.)

Day 14: Houston to Tucson

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We arrived home exhausted with sore butts and sleepy eyes. We were happy to have left home, and even happier to return. As I’ve learned time and time again, it is often in my journeys far from home that I come to appreciate all that I have right here in my own community. This trip, like all adventures, reinforced my gratitude for where I’m at, who I’m with, and who I am, right here, right now.

Next stop, Portland, Oregon! We just made plans to visit PDX in October. I’ve always wanted to see this city, and luckily, I’ll have an excellent tour guide. Stay tuned!

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Lessons from My Practice: Responding to Injury

One day I am standing on my hands. The next I am in bed with a heating pad under my back unable to move. It happened, literally, in the flick of a wrist: I folded over my legs in my narrow shower to shave my calves at 7 am and suddenly— spasm, tighten, slump— I’m in a ball on the floor with water pouring down my face and pain rushing up my spine. It wasn’t that moment that did it, though. In truth, it was a culmination of many small and subtle moments, pains physical and psycho-emotional, that led me to injury.

Injury is inherent in all exercise. I injured myself as a basketball player, as a track runner, and now, as a yoga practitioner. The problem is that, as a yogi, I have come to believe I am more educated about fitness and the body than I was before. Therefore, I should be able to prevent injury. While I’ve proven myself wrong countless times, I still beat myself up about getting hurt. It was my fault. I brought this upon myself. I’ll be a burden to everyone. I am useless. Stupid, stupid, stupid. It seems when I get physically injured I punish myself with self-inflicted psychological injuries, too.

This is where yoga comes in. One of my aims in my yoga practice has been to learn how to detach myself from outcomes and results, to separate my self-worth from the consequences of my efforts. For example, I have been trying for at least a year to balance in handstand without success. Every time I failed, a voice in my head used to say things like, “you’re a mediocre yogi” and “you’ll never be a good yoga instructor.” Eventually, I learned to ignore that voice and focus on what truly mattered: not that I could balance in handstand, but that through consistent and focused effort I am making progress and becoming stronger along the way. Yoga has taught me that I am greater than the faults and fumbles of my body.

Still, it is hard to ignore the voice that says “your body has betrayed you” and “you’re never going to recover” when you’re sitting on the floor of your shower with only half of your calf shaved and a sharp pain shooting through your back. It is in that moment that I had to do what yoga reteaches me everyday: breathe deeply, move carefully, and listen to my body. My yoga practice has proven to me that my bones and muscles are always wiser than my ego. Even when it is crippling me with pain, my body knows best. The hard part is decoding the messages the body is sending.

I think of the body as a vessel, not just of my blood, bones, and flesh, but of my stress, fears, insecurities, efforts, and achievements. It carries physical, psychological, and emotional burdens. It also expresses feelings of joy, pride, sadness, and fear, often without my knowledge.  So now, as it screams to me, my task is to hear its message, and—here’s the tricky part—respond. Because I’ve been here before, I know that my body is begging me to slow down, to take care of myself, and to practice moderation. I know this in my heart. It’s my ego that doesn’t want to hear it.

Convincing my ego that my value and success will not be diminished by self-care requires taking a long-term approach to achievement. If my ultimate goal is to balance in handstand before I’m 23, well then breaking my back (not merely metaphorically, it seems) is well worth it. But if my goal is to prolong the longevity of my body, my yoga practice, and my life, then taking time to care for myself is not a setback, but fuel forward. What’s more is that learning to positively respond to the needs and limitations of my body is part of the practice. I am human; my body is fallible. My self-worth is not diminished by my physical flaws. I can allow my body to rest, and in doing so, give love and care to my body, mind, and heart. 

Child's Pose/Balasana

Although I won’t be getting back to my normal practice this week or even the next, I will be practicing something. As I have heard my teachers say time and time again, this practice is, for many, the hardest practice of all: Rest.

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5 Lessons I Learned from My First Year of Teaching

Just four weeks ago, I completed my first year of teaching. Somehow, within the chaos, self-doubt, sleepless nights, and shimmering moments of success, I managed to continue to learn and grow as both an educator and an individual. In fact, I think I learned more from my students, my colleagues, and my own experience than my students managed to learn from me. Regardless, I know that the wisdom I gained in my first year will serve to make the coming years more enriching, more successful, and more fulfilling for both my students and myself. What follows is only five of the countless lessons I learned, which apply not only to my classroom, but to my everyday life. 

1. Specificity is Key

When I first started teaching, I had no idea what I wanted my classroom to look like. I didn’t know how I wanted my desks arranged, how I wanted papers handed in, or even how I wanted students to label their assignments. As a result, I was rarely specific or consistent. My desk arrangement changed at least every quarter, students handed their papers in upside down, backwards, and slantways, and sometimes, I had no idea which assignment I was grading because I never taught my students how to write a proper heading. I learned, the hard way, that being specific about everything in my classroom was the key to managing it effectively. There is power in being specific: specificity shows that you know exactly what you want and how you want it; you are in control.

2. Raise the Bar

I cannot count the times that I toned down the difficulty level of assignments because I thought it was “too much” for my kids. What I didn’t realize is that students will rise, or fall, to meet their teacher’s expectations. In the words of Harry Wong, “Students tend to learn as little or as much as their teachers expect.” When the expectations are high, students exert the effort and energy to rise up and meet them. If the expectations are low, so too is students’ effort and energy, creating a culture of apathy and negativity. Raising the bar, then, is crucial for students’ success both in the classroom and in life.

I asked my students to create a poetry book that contained examples of each poetic device we studied. Expect quality and that's what you get!

I asked my students to create a poetry book that contained examples of each poetic device we studied. This particular student went above and beyond expectations!

3. Don’t React, Respond

When I look back at how I handled disruptive situations in my classroom,  I’m a little embarrassed. It was rare that I managed to stop and think before reacting to something that happened in my classroom. If a student did something hilarious, it wasn’t uncommon for me to burst out laughing, completely derailing class so that I could collect myself. If my most challenging class was completely out of control, I often reacted with explosive, harsh fury. It wasn’t until the last quarter of the school year that I was able to change my behavior from reactive to responsive. Calculating a mature and controlled response to a given situation is much more effective than unleashing whatever gut reaction arrived initially. This sets a precedent that disruptive situations will be handled calmly and effectively each time they arise. It also reduces tension between teacher and student and shifts control back to the teacher. Pause. Breathe. Respond.

4. Try Again Differently

Sometimes I left school at the end of the day feeling successful, like I’d achieved what I set out to do and manifested my intentions. Other times I felt deflated, like I’d failed to turn my vision into reality and let my kids down. It was in these moments that I had to remind myself that I could try again tomorrow. And tomorrow, I had the chance to try again differently. If my lesson didn’t go as planned or the students didn’t connect to the material, I could revisit the same concept tomorrow using alternate methods. I could give them a different task or read a different poem; I could explain something with a real-life example or show a video. I realized that I had options, and each day was a new opportunity to start over. There are few jobs that allow you to simply forget about yesterday and start anew. That’s one thing I love about teaching: everyday at 3:30 pm I can let my students go home knowing that the next day at 8:00 am I’ll see them again, and together we’ll try again, hopefully a little better than the day before.

5. Never Stop Learning

If there is one thing I am proud of about my first year, it is that I never stopped looking at my teaching with a critical eye and asking myself, “how can I do this more effectively?” I took risks, and I was never too proud or afraid to incorporate suggestions from my colleagues and my students. As a result, my classroom was constantly evolving, and I was constantly learning—learning from my successes, my mistakes, and my failures.

Whether you are a school teacher, a professor, a yoga instructor, or a coach, never stop being a student. As teachers, we must be students first. We must forever cultivate our curiosity. We must always keep an open mind. We must be brave enough to experiment, knowing that if we are not successful, we have not failed— we have merely learned an invaluable lesson for tomorrow.

K(now) W(onder) L(earned) charts are an activity that I learned from one of my fellow teachers. It turned into a great way to engage my students in what they are reading!

K(now) W(onder) L(earned) charts are an activity that I learned from one of my fellow teachers. It turned into a great way to engage my students in what they are reading!

Fellow teachers, what are some lessons you’ve learned throughout your career? Share them in the comments below!

Learn on,

Savannah

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Re—

“Write with your eyes like painters, with your ears like musicians, with your feet like dancers. You are the truthsayer with quill and torch. Write with your tongues on fire. Don’t let the pen banish you from yourself. Don’t let the ink coagulate in your pens. Don’t let the censor snuff out the spark, nor the gags muffle your voice. Put your shit on the paper.”
– Gloria Anzaldúa

Put your shit on the paper.

Five months have come and gone without a single specimen of creativity. Five months have come and gone without the tapping tap tapping of the keys. Five months, and I haven’t put my shit on the paper, at least not intentionally, not voluntarily, not the way I want to. That doesn’t mean there’s been nothing to say. On the contrary, there’s been more to say these past five months than any other time in this chapter of my life:

go to the office, put your butt in a chair, but why?, I love you!, om nama shivaya, om shanti, please take three minutes to complete your Do Now silently and independently, AzMERIT, step one, step two, everybody line up!, I want you, good morning :), coffee?, Hi my name is Savannah and the word of the day is, take your hat off please, this is unlike anything I’ve ever felt before, namaste, step your right foot forward between your hands, 20 school days, 3 school days, I HATE water day, thank god it’s summer!, good morning, I love you

The words have poured out of my mouth and into space. Sometimes like tears, sometimes like screams, sometimes like raindrops, like laughter, like wine, like water, like comets, like waves colliding with people and hurling them down into the sea… but never like ink pouring onto paper. I’ve found these past five months that I can speak, but I cannot write. This paradox has led me to think about what it is that allows me to put my shit on the paper and what it is that never lets it land there. I think the determining factor has a lot to do with the prefix “re-.”

The Oxford Dictionary defines “re-” primarily as “once more; afresh, anew.” It then follows this definition with many more, the second being “with return to a previous state” as in “restore” or “revert.” For me, writing is a means of reflection, a sort of review, a revisiting of past events, thoughts, and lessons. All of those “re-” prefixes imply returning. To return means to steer yourself to a previous place, condition, or experience rather than continuing with your eyes set on what lies ahead. Hence why I’ve found it nearly impossible to write: living fully for the past five months has required that all of my energy and effort be directed forward. I’ve not been able to reflect on what has come and gone; I’ve only had room enough to bask, and burn, in the present.

With that said, I can now take refuge in a more fluid, slow-moving present: summer. During these short months, I have the space to revisit what I’ve learned and felt from January to June. I can review moments in which I made and grew from mistakes. I can restore the rhythm of the rapping on the keys. I can return to the past so that I may arrive in the future a little wiser. I can breathe. And as I exhale, I hope the breath will turn into words and travel down my arms into my fingertips where the words will turn to notes and the notes into music and the music into truth.

sunset in Tucson, AZ

Renew. Return. Rejoice. 

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Once a Teacher, Always a Teacher

Never in my life has winter break seemed so necessary. Not even when I was recovering from my first semester in the stifling libraries of Sciences-Po, my eyes aching from staring intensely at the pages of academic articles and mes dissertations, did this small window of repose feel so crucial. Teaching is really fucking hard.

I grew up in classrooms. During my elementary years, I went immediately from my own school to the larger, more intimidating campuses of my uncles and my mother. The bell rang, I got on the bus, and I bounced and chattered through every stop until there was only me and the driver. Then I moved up to the front of the bus to chat with her (or was it a him?) as we neared the middle school. From there I would either go to my uncle’s classroom on the middle school campus, or walk over to the high school on the other end of the football field. I sat out the remainder of the afternoons in the back of the room watching my uncle or my mother teach. My most vivid memories are of my mom’s Advanced Placement English classes. The Scarlet Letter. “The Graduate.” “The Fall of the House of Usher.” These were the works of my childhood, the prose, intertwined with the melancholy voices of Simon and Garfunkel, weaving a refrain in the background of my thoughts. I don’t know when I fell in love with literature and words and storytelling. But those countless days spent in the back of my mother’s classroom listening to her dive head first into the often dark and gruesome tales of humanity had something to do with it. They also had something to do with me becoming a teacher.

The adults in my life modeled teaching, and so I mimicked them. As soon as my little sister could take on the role of my pupil I set up a school for her in the basement. I wrote on the chalkboard my parents had bought us as she sat in a red antique desk copying my letters and numbers onto paper. We practiced the ABCs and counting to 10. We learned colors, sang songs, played games. It was all a game, really, but for me it was very real. I was her teacher and she was my student. I loved every minute of it.

I would not say today that I love every minute of teaching. On the contrary, I spend much of my time being very uncomfortable, especially when it comes to discipline. I’ve found that yelling at students actually makes me feel dirty. It has somewhat of a dementor effect, as if some dark force swooped down upon me and sucked out my soul. I try not to yell or “be mean,” and in turn my students take advantage of my compassion. I’m learning, though, to use discipline in a more constructive and effective way, and as I become more comfortable with it, to use it as a tool rather than a whip. It still requires and immeasurable amount of energy, though. Teaching takes all of me, from lesson planning, to grading, to being up in front of a class for five hours a day. I plan five different hour-long presentations everyday, five days a week, for an audience that doesn’t want to be there and doesn’t want to listen. If you didn’t get it the first time, teaching is really fucking hard.

That is why these two weeks of break are so needed. That is also why it’s been three months since I posted anything on this blog. By the end of the day, I’ve been talking for so long that I have no words left. Each day I am emptied. Only yoga and food and booze and sleep can replenish me. Well, only that and my students.

Ironically enough, the very soul-sucking, heart-wrenching, energy-depleting creatures that torment me all day are also the source of my happiness. Just as they make every day miserable, they make every day worth it. I live for the small moments—a student grasping a concept for the first time, a group of boys who are typically fighting working happily together, a student finding a typo in my own writing (we call them “word crimes”), a girl who used to be rude and disruptive slowly transforming into a kind and caring young woman, hugs and hellos from little ones who aren’t even my students, baking 84 Christmas cookies and watching my students eat them gleefully. The list is endless.

And so, during these two weeks, the truth is I will never set aside my teacher hat. I will think of my students, my lessons, books I’m teaching next quarter, things I need to do, activities to plan. I will talk about teaching at Christmas dinner, over coffee with old friends, here on this blog. I will tell stories and relive the worst and best moments of the past five months. Ms. Martin will not disappear. But in all honesty, she’s always been there, and she’s here to stay.

Smiles and all the best,

Savannah

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