Mental Health

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It’s difficult to tell in this snap, but it’s really quite nice out for March in Massachusetts.  Not exceptionally nice like it was on Wednesday, but nice enough.  A bit of a cool breeze, temperatures in the high fifties at 9:30 in the morning, clouds, and a bit of sun.  It’s the sort of weather that makes me feel like all hope is not lost.  Winter will end, the Earth is not dead, and I don’t have to be a crazy shut-in who only talks to her cats.  A change is blowing in with the wind and I feel good.

But, for as good as I feel when Spring is knocking on the door, there are still things that bother me: Americans, for example, work too much.  I think we’re pretty much insane for working such long hours.  I say this despite being a bit of a workaholic: I’ve been known to only take breaks during the work day because someone placed a sandwich in front of me and said ‘Bex, you need to eat something.’ (Not too often, but it’s happened more than once.)  Regardless, people work too much.

A few years ago I had a temp job that got me up before the sun, and didn’t let me out until after it had set.  It was winter, so this wasn’t all that difficult, but, still, it was the most depressing thing I’ve ever experienced.  Except when I looked around the office at the people who actually worked there: there were employees who where already in the office when I arrived.  As the sun was rising over the Atlantic, they were already on calls with clients and customers.  These same people were still on calls when I left an hour after the sun had set way beyond the Berkshires.  Another temp and I rode the elevator together at the end of one day and we asked each other “How the fuck do they do this?”  This life was for neither she nor I.

Now, I’m not trying to be insulting or make anyone feel badly about their job.  If I have, I apologize.  A person is allowed to love their job, or choose to be at work before the sun’s up and stay until after it’s down. This is not a criticism of individuals, but of the system.  America seems to value working long hours and not taking breaks; and we are conditioned to expect to be punished for taking breaks while trapped indoors during prime tanning hours.  It starts in school when we can see the beautiful weather but are forced to stay inside.  Therefore, as adults we accept being trapped in cubicles, chained to desks, stuck in windowless rooms with bad lighting and poorly regulated air conditioning.  That’s why I was pleasantly surprised yesterday.

I’ve picked up some hours tagging and folding shirts in a warehouse.  It’s a pain, literally, to stand at a table and fold tee shirts all day, but it’s not the least exciting work I’ve ever done (that would be that temp job in the sales office).  Nor is it the most difficult.  It is physically taxing, but so was environmental ed. and summer camp.  It might be a bit more physically taxing because I’m older now and I’ve already put my body through years of environmental ed. and summer camp, but it’s nothing I’m not familiar with.  The other people who work there are pleasant, and there’s a window so we can see if it’s sunny or rainy.  In the afternoons, the older ladies who work there are replaced by a group of teenagers coming off their school day.

Yesterday, two of the boys were talking at the table behind me.  One asked the other why he wasn’t in school or at work the day before, the extremely nice day for March in Massachusetts.  The boy said simply that he had stayed home.  He told school he was “sick”, but in reality it was just that it was nice out and he spent his day outdoors.  The other teens were amazed and surprised.  One girl couldn’t believe his audacity.  I, however, couldn’t help being extremely proud.  This kid, all of sixteen or seventeen, understood that Wednesday was a Beautiful Day, and that Beautiful Days are meant to be enjoyed.  He’d even decided that this Beautiful Day was meant to be enjoyed out of doors.  The other teens went on and on about how crazy he was, but I couldn’t help but be impressed this kid chose his mental health over his attendance record, his grades, and a paycheck.  This kid has his priorities in order.

Take care of your mental health people, it’s more important than we Americans realize.

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Things I Really Like:

  • Rainy days, when I don’t have to go anywhere
  • Coffee, always
  • Taylor Swift’s latest album
  • Paintings by Vincent Van Gogh
  • Snuggling
  • Comic book movies, esp Marvel
  • Pirates, Ninjas, Witches, Robots
  • 19th Century European Literature, primarily British
  • Colorful flowers
  • Baking sweets for others
  • Writing
  • Mysteries of most descriptions: books, movies, TV shows
  • Ocean beaches
  • Being silly
  • Kittens
  • Reading really captivating books
  • Loving; Being in love
  • Vodka, Honey Whiskey, Red Wine
  • Arts and Crafts
  • Bringing joy to other people
  • Experimenting
  • Jane Austen

A Story of Natural Consequences

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A little ways to the left of the dock above is a deep channel dug years ago for irrigation purposes.  Whoever was digging it gave up and now it’s just a deep, muddy ditch.  This wouldn’t be a big deal if it weren’t for the fact that the program I work for regularly brings students into that marsh.  Which isn’t actually a big deal: typically, our students listen to us when we tell them not to go into the mud because they’ll sink in up to their waists.  Typically they hear these instructions and heed our advice.  Typically.

Last week, the final week of our program for the school year, we had a school from the Boston inner city area.  With urban schools, my main objective is to get the kids out into nature, to try to get them to connect with something, anything, in the outdoors.  Now Boston isn’t New York in terms of nature, but my goal remains the same.  This is mud, those are trees, bug spray goes on you not the insects.

Regardless of where a school is from my rules are simple: we stay together, we have fun and learn something, don’t get hurt.  This last school had a little trouble with the rules.  None of the students got hurt, but half were having trouble with the “have fun and learn something” rule (“it’s so cold!”, “there are so many bugs!”, “I’m gonna get wet!”), while the other half was disregarding the “stay together” rule.

Tuesday, we’re in the marsh, about four girls have informed me they have to pee (these muffins are not prepared to go in the trees), I am attempting to get us as close to an actual bathroom as possible.  This is proving difficult as the kids not into the exploration are dragging their feet, and the kids who are into finding animals in the marsh keep finding really cool crabs and asking questions about the various species, and I’m really pumped to stop and examine and answer their questions.  However, slowly, but surely, we are getting closer and closer to the dock above (which is a short walk to the dining hall and, therefore, toilets) but we are still on the far side of the channel.

And I don’t realize that I’m not going to be able to get up ahead of them to warn them about the mud.

There I am, standing in the marsh, looking around to make sure all students are moving with the group, while staying away from the osprey nest on the point, when I turn back around to see, up ahead, K—-, a small, fifth grade boy in a clear plastic poncho, jump off the marsh, into the channel, and run/crawl up the far bank back onto the marsh.  I yell to them to stay where they are as the rest of the students and I make our way to the channel.  Miraculously all the students come gather around.  Mostly due to other kids yelling “K—- LOST HIS SHOE!  K—- LOST HIS SHOE!  MISS BECKA, K—- LOST HIS SHOE!”

K—- had, indeed, lost one of his shoes.

Very calmly, to the gathered students, I tell them that I am now going to tell them the story of the girl who jumped in the channel.  She didn’t listen to me, got ahead of me, much like K—- did, jumped in the channel and sank up to her waist in the mud.  She was lucky, however, I told my students.  Unlike another student who lost his boot in the mud.  When his teacher reached in to get it out, she pulled out a boot, sure; but not that kid’s boot.  A different boot.  K—-‘s shoe is gone.  K—-‘s shoe is no more.  There is no shoe.  It’s gone, baby; gone.

And I couldn’t be mad at him.  Couldn’t yell at him.  I couldn’t give him a warning or a strike for running ahead.  The boy lost his shoe in the mud.  Forever.  I wasn’t about to jump in there and try to retrieve it, especially after the kid told me he had another pair in the cabin.  I did tell his teacher when we got back, however.  He agreed with me: Natural Consequences.  Now the kid knows if he jumps in the mud again: he might lose his shoes.

This child is destined to lose shoes, though; I’m convinced.  The next day, that same student almost lost his sandal to the ocean.  Another kid fished it out with a crabbing net.

Stream Stomp!

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Stream Stomp!

I really like my job. People don’t understand this. People who don’t work at my job, I mean. People who DO work at my job wholeheartedly understand why I keep coming back despite the long hours, isolated locations, close quarters, bad camp food, (sometimes) terrible coworkers, little pay, and seasonal employment. But we love our job.

We love it, for one reason, because kids are weird. Kids are freakin’ weird. Children have asked me the weirdest questions over the years, made the funniest statements, and generally made me laugh. This past week we got the tiniest child to wear the banana costume during dinner (yes, we have a banana costume).

Another reason is because we, the teachers, as well as the kids, are constantly learning new things. Our first season doing outdoor ed, my friend said to me: “This job is great! We get paid to LEARN!” (we’re very nerdy here).

Also: we get to do really REALLY fun things like stomp around in the river and look for animals. When I worked at the ocean site, I could take my groups down to the docks with a few buckets and nets, string, and a bag of leftover meat and spend a few hours catching crabs. Now that I’m back in the woods, along a Connecticut river, I get to take buckets and nets to the water and spend a couple hours catching crayfish and frogs. Do you get to do that at your job?

2013-05-03 10.34.15This week I tried a class that had previously terrified me.  I never really understood it.  But we had second through fifth graders this week, many of whom did not speak much English, and I figured I could take them to the river and have them catch creatures for an hour and a half and it would be fun and (sort of) educational.

2013-05-03 10.47.24And I was right: my students had so great a time, on the last day I took my group down for our final Field Group to the river to catch animals.  They got wet, they picked up animals, they slipped on rocks, they climbed on everything, and had a wonderful time.

2013-05-03 11.24.18I had girls catching frogs with their bare hands, naming them, falling in love with these wild little creatures, wishing they could bring them home to New York with them (which they cannot).  It was wonderful to see Girly Girl types bare-handing these precious amphibians and having zero qualms about getting dirty and tromping around in the mud and holding frogs.

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One kid had brought this net case for capturing animals.  We used it more than once for frogs and aquatic insects that we discovered while exploring the streams and the river.2013-04-30 10.41.02_1

I had another student, a boy, who caught a shit-ton of crayfish with just a net and his bare hands.  He collected them all in a bucket and was determined to show them to his teacher even though we HAD TO RELEASE THEM AND GO BACK because they were loading the busses and they had to go home.  But it was adorable that all he wanted to do was see just how many of these weird, tiny lobster, crustaceans he could collect.

2013-05-03 11.51.01It was almost exactly like catching crabs, which I also had to warm up to doing myself, and I loved every second of it.  My mission, now that it’s warmer and nicer weather here in the northeast, is to take the buckets and nets out at least once, if not twice, a week and see how many of what my students can collect out of our waters.  It was, by far, the most fun I have had in a very long time.

2013-05-03 10.46.55And, quite frankly, there’s really nothing greater than watching children do something they might never get to do at home or with their families, or in their daily lives; either because they simply don’t have the opportunity, or because their parents won’t let them do things like go down to the stream and catch frogs.  I always was intrigued, as a kid, by characters in movies and books who just ran around the neighborhood and rode their bikes to bodies of water and caught frogs and fish and tried to bring them home.  As a kid I never would have known how to do these things.  No one ever showed me and I wasn’t allowed to leave the yard, unless I was riding a bike (not my bike, a bike, I never had my own bike) and even then I could only ride it around the portion of the street where we lived.  I assume many kids get an upbringing like mine, one where I had many restrictions on what and where I could do and go, and I want those kids to be comfortable in the outdoors and open up to things like getting dirty and being knee deep in a river solely for the purpose of scooping up a tadpole or fish or crab or whatever.

While I had restrictions while at home, I also have an outdoorsy mother who did take me places where I could get dirty and encouraged me to spend time in and appreciate nature.  She made me environmentally aware and for that I am forever grateful.  I am glad that I figured out how to be in the outdoors on my own, as a grownup, but I do appreciate her appreciation and passing that on to me.  I don’t plan on having children of my own and therefore the best way I can pass on what my mother gave to me is to work with children in the outdoors and help them be comfortable exploring the outdoors.

I know I can’t do this forever, but while I still have the energy I am very happy to be doing this.  I do wish it were more year round; however, I am still very happy to be doing what I can.  I really do love my job.  My job is not odd; it is not stress-free; it is not “normal” — all that is definitely part of what keeps me coming back.

“Advice” :: written 4/26/2013

Potential Text for a Sketchbook Project.  Or something else entirely.  Read, comment, enjoy.  <3 Bex

ADVICE

At twenty eight my mother had four children, a husband in the Navy, and a house she wasn’t expecting to live in for the next thirty four years. My life took a very different path. Even though we think alike and share similarly simple life goals, my life at twenty eight is very different from hers at twenty eight. She in Suburbia with a station wagon; I in the country, childless, my only transportation my own two feet. (What is it about the youngest child that she always seems to insist on taking a very different route from her family?) I have no spouse, no steady work, no car, no children of my own, and no desire for any of the above.

No advice, neither, for others searching for their path. Because, just like when hiking, I walked right off mine and don’t plan to stop bushwhacking until I find my place beside the shimmering sea. I’m so deep in the wood now I couldn’t find a path if I tried; I’ve got to just keep on walking until I can walk no more.

I love my life, surrounded by white pine, white, black, and yellow birch, mountain laurel, and musclewood; eastern hemlock, oaks, maple trees, shagbark hickory, apple, spruce, and fir. I like stepping between the skunk cabbage, across the moss covered rocks that litter the streams I come across. There are frogs, insects, and salamanders hiding underfoot; red headed woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks, tufted titmice, and chickadees overhead; while rabbits, deer, coyote, squirrels, and foxes share the middle spaces.

Sometimes there are snakes and other creatures that seem a whole lot scarier than they actually are. Eventually, though, you live amongst the unfamiliar long enough you come to understand them and how to coexist in apprehensive peace. But the sunlight filters through the glossy green leaves, their ancestors crunching beneath my feet as dirt and humus cake the hardened callouses of my soles.

And I know there is going to come a time I stumble upon a path so attractive I won’t be able to turn my feet from it and it will lead me through well lit floral archways and into deep, dark, ominous passages but eventually will end at the wide, vast, ocean. Until then I am barefoot in the woods, roasting hickory nuts over open flames and drinking water from the streams.

You, my friend, like so many before, are standing at a crossways, the signposts pointing in all directions, complete with compelling reasons why you should take each one. And the only way you know you can’t go is back. As to which trail you ought to take, I could not say.

My advice will be inadequate from my position so deep in the woods I can only tell direction by the angle of the sun, but here’s what I’ve got to say to you:

  • Don’t forget to laugh; this is very important, laugh everyday: it’ll keep you sane.
  • Do what brings you joy. Know the things that make you happy and make time for these.
  • 90% of the time if it feels wrong it probably is. The other 10% of the time it’ll feel wrong because it’s something new and unfamiliar. If that’s the case, it might be worth it to push through the discomfort if for not other reason than growth and experience.
  • Sometimes up is down; but if you keep going the world will righten itself again.
  • Feel free to make mistakes just so long as you learn from them and live without regrets; because while life is short, it doesn’t move as fast as a 200 page novel or a two hour romantic comedy.
  • “This above all: to thine ownself be true”. If it doesn’t feel like you, if you don’t feel like you, it might be time to leave the path behind altogether.

The land is meant to be explored. So much is missed by sitting in one spot, or worse, holed up indoors. Get out there, my friend, and explore the woods. The journey might bring you to a desert, or the mountains, or the snow. Wherever you’ll end up, you’ll end up exactly where you are meant to go. We won’t follow the same paths as our mothers, or even as each other, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. We’d never be happy on someone else’s path and we shouldn’t settle for one that isn’t us. I love you, friend, let me know where you end up.

<3 B

Oh, p.s., also it’s important to remember the aquatic manatee is more vicious than the land manatee; but both should be avoided at all costs.

Here’s the thing about being back at work:

  1. It’s awesome.
  2. I live at the beach.
  3. I get to explore the coast all the fucking time.
  4. The kids are funny.
  5. My coworkers are nuts.
  6. My Internets is shitty.
  7. I don’t have enough time to read or write.
  8. I have little desire to read or write.

Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmm, many thoughts this time around… many thoughts.

I’ll be honest: I can’t wait to live by the water again.

I’m very sad and not all that sad that the Fella is going to be working in Maine while I will be in Rhode Island.  I think we’re benefiting from all this time apart; keep things from moving faster than they should.  And I’m really glad he is also going to be living on the ocean and taking kids to the beach every week.  I’m a little jealous that he gets to experience that in a very different way from how we did last fall on the Cape and how we operate in Rhode Island (in Maine it’s a proper beach with tourists and everything, then there’s a large salt marsh I’d love to explore; in Rhode Island we have a little salt marsh and lots of beach and mating horseshoe crabs).  But I’m still glad to be going back to Rhode Island (I’ve been trying to get back there for a year).  I’m excited to lay out on the dock and take students to the water and show them the bioluminescence instead of just telling them about and having them “take my word for it”.  (They get it, but they don’t and that’s unfortunate.)

I miss southern Rhode Island.  I would absolutely move down there for serious.