Sunday, January 31, 2010

I shouldn't drink coffee at 7PM.

Always want to be something that's not right here, not right now.
The worst Zen student ever, I must be perfect.
Never really picking up the great matter, but really looking for the great answer.

If the great answer ever had a face would it be easier to forget?

Is that like, "If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him"?

Can you not kill what you can't see?

What's with all the killing...

Saturday, January 30, 2010

36 degrees

Very cold start in New Orleans this morning. Very grey.

It rained yesterday. I made the best of it. The students were anxious and ready to leave as soon as they arrived. Conflicting directions from the administrators didn't help the mood of anyone, as it made our morning routine a lot of hurry-up-and-wait.

I fought hard for the students to be given a break. They tested for four days straight, from 8:30 to 4:00, following up with tutoring until 5. I told them friday would be a day of activity and reflection. Then I was told there was just one more section of the test they would need to take...

First, I objected because I had already told them we were finished. I did this in front of the class. I did it on purpose, because I knew I wasn't going to win, and I knew this new turn of events was going to damage their trust in me as their teacher. Secondly, I objected because another student advocate, the dean, had planned a high school vist for Friday morning until 10:00. Apparently, these administrators hadn't talked to each other.

Well, I was still called a liar. I did succeed in getting this last test pushed back so we could attend the high school visit, but then we were left in limbo for an hour and a 1/2 and the visit was canceled.

Toward the end, with 30 min. remaining, we broke out some games- heart beat and pulse- which always boost morale. It was student led, which always makes me feel good. We took our tests, and then it was on to fly high friday, which is what we call our half day of classes, followed by a school culture building activity. Sometimes the classes act together and sometimes we break off. The Alpha Kings (a self moniker for the 8th grade boys, which sounds more like a gang than an academic fraternity) wanted to play football in the rain. I let them. Even played with them, and no one got hurt.

I was satisfied when one student said, "Man, we do everything- car wash, christmas chicken dinner, now football in the rain!" And I expected some repirmand from the principal, as we sat musty and excited during the 2nd quarter awards ceremony for the last hour of the day.

When it was my turn to go up, the Alpha Kings cheered. Not sure for what- we had no A or B honor roll!! I did give three best improved awards.

The Alpha Kings are a complex experiment that is a little out of my hands. I preached, you are your brother's keeper from the very begining, and fiercely individulistic from a grab what you can culture, they rebeled at that notion of accountability. Through meditation (every morning no matter what) a class chant, and class missions, like a peace walk and a car wash, they have become one. There is very little bullying and only the top alphas really get into it, and I'm glad to say that we've had no major infractions, though we appear wooly. We had one fight this year, which was a reactionary when one student thought another spit on him.

I'm also proud of their collaboration and inventiveness. The Alpha Kings have sayings, like the "Be the anvil." They have 2 daps (one I know, the other is secret), a very annoying slow clap, a particular way of standing in a straight line (also very annoying), and a game they invented called Wolves, in which they howl each other's names.

They think they're pretty elite, but how elite can they be when their mediocre students and athletes? We're going to talk about that.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Finally woke up!

I've been trying to wake up at five thirty all week, and like every week, on some random day, I actually did it. It happened to be Friday, of all days.

I usually don't remember what I'm supposed to be doing. I haven't been sitting much Zazen, so it doesn't come to mind. It came to mind this morning when I remembered the church bells ring at 6- so it would be a perfect half hour to sit for. It's a start for now. I've lost my morning routine. I've been going to work around 7:40.

Mornings are really important to me. The best mornings I remember were the ones I spent in Alaska. I was alone, the cabin was small, and I wrote up a storm. There was no access to coffee, so green tea was the norm, and I remember how quiet the mountains were. I'd read anything! I ran out of books about two months in my trip, and at one point I found myself reading a 1,000 page text about science.

I had these long morning that started at 4:30 or so. I'd feed the sled dogs and let them digest until 7, and then we would run. Sometimes I wonder why I ever left. To crest hills through Aspens and watch the northern lights play in the sky until 9am was celestial. I guess the only thing it was missing was people.

Now I have tons of people and no mountains. I'll see 100 students today. They'll each have a question. Not sure what I'll say.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

One foot after the other.

Really, really, didn't want to go to work today. Didn't feel like rushing out of my house. Felt like listening to the radio in my pajamas, drinking coffee, and reading blogs. Had a little debate with myself and then my fiance.

I wanted to argue that because I worked last Saturday, that I tutored every day until 5:30, and I hadn't seen a planning period all week, that I should get to stay home. She reminded me that I took this job. Told them I'd be there Monday through Friday. So I got my ass out of bed. Went it to organized chaos.

I tackled it. It wasn't so smooth. I looked around and I didn't accept things I knew I could change. Yelled enough.

Frustrated. Great odds, meek support. Most of my students are ready for ELA but if their math doesn't improve in 30 days, it won't matter. They'll fail their big state test. So, I told my homeroom, come Monday, their English teacher will be teaching them Math in the morning. They were okay with that. They're a tight group. They call themselves the Alpha Kings...16 eighth grade boys. Limitless potential.

I'm glad I went. No one can run my class like I can. In my third year, I can manage these kids. Give them a look that will shut them up for an hour or have them acting out Greek myths. The bond is amazing. I actually love the kids, love the teaching, but find the work load unsustainable. Or maybe I just think that. Maybe there's nothing wrong.

Anyway, it's not going to get easier. So might as well keep on pushing.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Nothing but pig wings.

Sometimes you have to admit you've fallen into an obsession.

Obsessions can be a bit ugly to watch- like a child running down an aisle and grabbing everything in sight. Where did this military obsession come from?

I guess that doesn't matter, because here it is, in my lap.

Do I know anything? Do I know that deployments are real? That 15 months could be a lifetime?

Am I not recognizing what I already am? Just a middle school teacher. Just a Bodhisattva that wants a little chaos.

Funny, most people would think an inner city school would be chaos enough. It's greatly improved from when I started, but I think it would still spin a couple heads.

I think I'm wrong. Are these settling pains working their way out like pieces of glass?

I think I'll shut up and sit still. It's worked so well in the past.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

"You think outside about ten boxes."

My fiance provided the title for this blog. Zen, military, A.A, teaching inner city kids, video games, fast car, video games, home repairs, cooking meals, writing, reading, running, loving, family, adventure - these are my boxes, I think.

Life is pretty outrageous. The places we end up, the places we choose to go, the costumes we wear, the ideas we keep like kites on a string- I have to say I've had a lot of fun.

Speaking of fun, tomorrow, I'll teach until 1 and then I go to take my ASVAB. I'm seriously considering, for the third time in my life, joining the military (as a reserve). This time, for the first time, it's Army, instead of the Marines. For one, I'm screened out of the Marines because of my sleeve of tattoos. I don't even remember getting a sleeve of tattoos, but there it is, bright as a rainbow. And two, the MOS availability, the bonuses, and accommodations the Army makes is more suitable for my life style, except of course for the long deployments, which I'm sure I'll see in the future.

I'll be taking a split school, which means boot camp this summer, and school next summer. My top three choices are Chaplin's assistant, journalist, or masonry/carpentry. Not trying to be G.I Joe, but would like to keep the tradition of service- Dad was a cook in the Marines for 21, Grandpa was a Chaplain's Assistant in the Army, other Grandpa was Infantry in Korea...

When I think about all my boxes, I think about the Bodhisattva Kannon. 1,000 arms with a 1,000 tools, for the worlds 1,000 needs. I feel ready and capable to fill the roles that come natural. I'm not really trying to do pros and cons. If I did that, I wouldn't do anything, ever. I have a con-sided mind. I'd be a great prosecuting attorney.

So, adventures abound- this afternoon, I'll take a practice test, and try and turn fractions into decimals, which for me will be a miracle. Think water into wine.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

How smooth are things?

Rubble and bleeding brown skin hits close to home for me. Horrible images and horrible sympathy for my students. A good many of my students fell into the socieo-economic group whose only recourse was to hope for a spot in the super dome, during Katrina. I was already back at college in Pennsylvania. My parents easily escaped. But some of my students stayed and saw horrible things. Some did horrible things.

I'm thinking of one of my students who saw a murderer killed in the super dome. He remembers how the M16s tore through the body. He was about eleven.

My family didn't have the easiest time either. 9 feet of water in St. Benard Parish. Never saw that house again. By the time I got back, it was swept away by organizations, mostly christian.

In post-Katrina New Orleans, things are better? That student has had more than one gun in his face for bicycles or ipods.

I don't see my job as easy, either. I often don't feel that I'm doing all that good. That I'm just putting out fires, one after another in the inner city classroom.

I hate the first noble truth. I've always been told that hate is the only real sin in Buddhism, if there are any, and I hate that I can't get past my own karma to help others. My body is moving, it looks like I'm helping, but I know I'm thinking, "Somebody needs to help me!"

I also suspect that knowing hate is wrong isn't enough. There's nothing to read or hear to realize that.

It feels rather childish. Like it's time to share my snack and I don't want to.

I want to feel empathy, real empathy. I'm just not open to it right now. I know I'll donate to the red cross, I know that Haiti needs help, and I'll give what I can, but what if I know that I'm not really feeling anything?

What should it feel like, anyway?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Too much or too little.

How do we practice the way without too much regret or too much pride? How do we really act?

I didn't sit this morning, but I did wake up. I forgot that physically getting out of bed is a start to "waking."

Sometimes it's like walking into a room and seeing all the disarray. How do you not feel overwhelmed? Instead, how do you just start cleaning? I think the first thing is to accept that the room is a mess. You can't clean a clean room.

All these questions. I once heard my teacher say, "I only asked Deshimaru one question during my 10 years with him." He was bragging, I thought. I'm not sure what he meant. He said this in response to all of our questions, which we ask over and over. I do ask questions over and over. Some I've been asking for years.

The great matter seems a curse some days. It's always there, won't ever go away. Seems inevitable that I would become aware of it. How do we address it? I only know zazen and right livelihood.

Monday, January 11, 2010


I was thinking about closing this blog and starting something new. Ariel Pork sounds so desperate, so existential- so messed up. I was thinking, "Ariel Pork isn't me."

I had a better idea for what "me" should look like. Let me fes up.

I'm not sitting zazen. I stopped about a month ago. Maybe I sit once a week. I'm a bad Buddhist. 30 whacks if you do, 30 whacks if you don't. But I want to practice. I want a lot of things. My intentions are never lacking. But what good are intentions?

They'll have to be good enough until I get on my feet again, or zafu, if you will. Big life changes. I'm engaged. She's wonderful. Am I?

Trying to be, so ideas come in- how do I be the best me? What is the best me? Why am I 27 and a little confused about that? Very confused. But sitting still. Still teaching. Still...not thinking. Just doing. Movin' on with that which never really moves. That, uh, restlessness. She loves me just the way I am.

There are a few things I felt came naturally to me- writing and sitting. Teaching is something that I love doing, because it's hard, and gives me a reason to get out of my pajamas.

Can't seem to focus. Some activities I want to reclaim- Sitting, and writing, even if it's only this blog, only this nothing of a page.

Feeling too ambitious about some other things- money, for one. Security for another. Want to ignore all that I know. Want to think there is some better way.

Lay practice...I never knew it would be so hard. Smells just like Ariel Pork.