1.The idea of “know thyself” has existed since the ancient Greeks and here you are in 2015 telling us there is no real, authentic life without knowing yourself. Can you explain?
We live in a time with information readily accessible to us and yet we are no wiser for it. We are information rich but knowledge poor with no real ability to gain the wisdom needed in order to truly authenticate our own existence. I don’t fault anyone for this; in fact, I think it is part of the natural process for us to seek outward influences when shaping who we are. I’ve seen this as I’ve birthed and raised my children – as babies they sought out my voice to find peace, as toddlers they mimicked my actions and phrases. And yet, somehow as we age and move beyond these early childhood development stages, we can’t seem to disregard entirely the need to find other voices or actions to mimic. Instead of finding peace from a mother’s voice, we feel stressed because Google returns over 2.67 billion hits in .44 seconds on the search “How to be real”. Instead of evolving into higher level introspects, we are instead becoming more reliant on outside sources to tell us who and what we should become. The answer to being real and authentic won’t be found in any digital form; the answer is always found when you honestly evaluating yourself and becoming your soul’s best friend.
Until you’re able to hear a stranger’s footsteps in the hallway at night and finally recognize them as your own spirit’s, then you won’t be able to discern who or what is influencing your life’s path.
2. What was the journey you took to self-awareness? Was the book a part of it or a reporting of your journey?
Tea and Madness is a collection of pieces I wrote over approximately 3-5 years. All but I think one or two originally appeared on my blog, Streetlights Imagination when I had no idea or real intention to publish a book. A book had never even crossed my mind! So really, this is a presentation of my life as it unfolded during a time period when my life had fallen apart into unrecognizable pieces and I had to either rebuild or give up. The only life I had known before – a successful and professional teacher, working wife and mother, highly respected in the community – had been completely taken away from me once my sexual assault at the hands of a former student came out. I had no idea who I was anymore. The coping strategies I had created to handle my depression and anxiety disorders disintegrated, my agoraphobia returned, and I was contractually bound by a gag order by my school district. I was forced into living almost a double life that was necessary at the time for survival. I had to not only protect my family from malicious rumors but I also had to protect my reputation from any possible damage if I fell apart outside of my house. Writing gave me freedom, however. I adopted a pen name and the anonymity gave me the security I needed to reclaim my life again.
While I never made a real effort to hide my blog from anyone, I also never expected to promote or publicize it much. Once I opened my Twitter, I hardly ever tweeted a link to anything I had written. I wasn’t ashamed by anything I wrote or even felt insecure. My life at the time was incredibly tumultuous and anxiety-ridden. I didn’t think to share my words. And so I began writing incredibly raw and unfiltered, sometimes feeling desperate to set down a truth I couldn’t share anywhere else. I hesitate to call it “journaling” because I was not recording life events or attempting to play therapist with myself. I was seeking out an understanding of just what the hell had happened to me and most importantly why?
Watching my book come to life was experiencing my voice being heard for the first time. As a rape survivor who never reported this was enormously validating. I could feel a shift in the cosmos as if my planets realigned themselves back to their original course. The district’s gag order had expired some time ago yet due to state school board politics and an unsupportive teacher association, I still have not been permitted to request a hearing for my license to be reinstated. Again, I understood what Lazarus must have felt like the morning after he rose from the dead to have my own voice out in the world for the first time in five years
This book, if anything, is a product of pain and unexpected joy.
3. ‘Know thyself’ seems to speak to the core of taking responsibility for what one thinks and does. How does “know thyself” have ramifications on the larger world?
There seems to be a fear in the world at large to be responsible for spiritual greatness. I don’t mean ‘spiritual greatness’ in terms of an organized religion’s spirituality, but the spirituality of understanding the relationship a person has between herself and the Universe. I remember once being on a highway in Arizona and seeing the Milky Way for the first time. It wasn’t clear or defined but there it was and I was both incredibly insignificant and powerful at the same time. Insignificant because I was nothing compared to something so vast and far-reaching, yet powerful because in all that far-reaching spilt puddle of stars I realized there was only one of Me – no duplication. What was I going to do with the gift of my existence? I truly believe if people recognize that by even existing in relation to the enormity of Universe, and feel in awe of that, there would be such a vibrational shift in society’s effectiveness.
But somehow instead of encouraging each other to take the reigns over their own lives, we have perpetuated a Peter Pan ideology that on our quest to “finding ourselves” it is okay to hurt other people, be reckless with other people’s emotions, or to be reckless period. The opposite is true. We’ve distorted and bastardized the idea of introspection as being inward mobility instead of it actually being outward projection. Thoughtful introspection and reflection shouldn’t move a person to selfishness or even isolation. It should move a person to an understanding of how he or she fits within a more Universal frame and then help that person move forward along a path.
4. If you do not “know thyself,” is love possible? Is happiness possible?
The only real sin is to not be true to who you know you are or can be. According to DMR: Digital Marketing/Stats/Strategy/Gadgets, in 2014, there were an estimated 45 million boards and 176 million pins dedicated to beauty on Pinterest. In the same time frame, there were 4.5 billion pins associated with fashion along with 30 million users who have pinned something fashion related. 94% of all Pinterest activity is by women. I’m not picking on Pinterest because I have an axe to grind; I happen to love Pinterest. I use Pinterest to illustrate the insatiable need we have to fix ourselves when we don’t need fixing. We need to love ourselves; every single ounce of messy shit that happens in our lives is a part of who we are and we don’t need to pin an affirmation to make it true, damn it.
We have to stop being selective in our celebrations of humanity and start recognizing that too much energy is wasted on public packaging.
I needed to share my experience with other women because I know that if there is something women have in common it is the ability we have to undermine our own joy. Women will either break each other down to strengthen a false sense of validation or they will break themselves down so they won’t feel happy at all. There is no misery award. Nobody wins a prize for who can be the most wretched. If you fall into one of these two categories you need to look at yourself in the mirror and honestly say to yourself, “What the hell is so wrong with me that I can’t let myself or other people be happy? Because frankly I am a bitch.” Until someone truly fixes that for herself she won’t ever give herself permission to experience joy from any kind of sorrow.
5. As a teacher and communicator, what do you teach your kids about self-awareness?
I loved being in the classroom with a passion. I always insisted to my colleagues that students would rise to any expectation we placed before them and my students never failed me. From the first day of school to the last, if they knew failure or missing assignments were not an option than they knew the expectation was to turn in all assignments and to do their best work at all times. It doesn’t mean I never had students who pushed limits or boundaries. I did. But it also meant that my students knew they would have to talk about it. I only ever had a handful of “class rules” to discuss at the start of the year, the primary rule being to “be aware of yourself and others”. They weren’t required to raise their hands because I thought that was childish. I didn’t have to raise my hand when I needed to speak to other people, why should they? However they did need to learn how to be respectful of other people’s boundaries and couldn’t speak over voices. If they wanted to add to the discussion or ask a question they needed to wait until another person was speaking, including me. After a couple days of school they learned.
My kids also knew they would have to work for their grades, not only the assignment but also in how they were graded. Essays were submitted with a reflection sheet telling me what they struggled with in particular while writing that the essay and why they thought it was difficult. They also had to identify two specific areas in the paper they wanted my personalized feedback on and then describe what they plan on doing in the revision process. I wanted most of all to move beyond the mentality of “just fulfill the requirement” and step into the role of introspective learner. For the most part it worked.
Above all, my students knew they always had second chances because I believe in redemption. I always accepted late work, most times without penalty. When I asked them what they felt was and fair and reasonable point deduction, students would be fair with me and with themselves. If the assignment was late due to an illness, they would say, they felt it was fair to have no points deducted. I agreed that was reasonable. One student turned in a large project two months late and when I asked him the same question he very honestly replied he shouldn’t earn more than half of his total score. I felt that was reasonable to. Because my students knew I believed in them they believed in themselves. Slowly.
Many times it came through example. I had a student transfer to my class from another school that was labeled as “trouble”. I’m sure she was at some point but I could also see she was a sad girl. She skipped class constantly, was belligerent to staff and other students. She was hurting. Finally one day she walked past my doorway, blatantly showing her presence but refusing to come to class. I had had it. I was about to lose my temper, which was exactly what she wanted. Instead I calmly took attendance, had everyone leave their backpacks and grab our class novel and told them we were going on a field trip. Students were confused – this was definitely not our normal day. We went down one hall and then down another until we finally found her: sitting against the wall in an alcove where the janitor’s office was. I told her that if she didn’t come to class then I was bringing class to her. We all sat down and I began to lecture and read with my students. This happened about two or three more times until she finally began coming on her own every day, but not before one of the popular kids in my class asked “Why are we doing this for her? If she doesn’t come that’s her problem not hers!” I looked at him and scolded, “No. If one is lost we are all lost. That’s why we do this.”
I miss being in the classroom.
To buy Tea and Madness, click on the title.