All posts by Angel

Guns in my children’s middle school

My family had a terrible day – a day filled with fear, anger and hopelessness.

It started for me at 11:36am when I received the following texts from my 13-year-old daughter, Lily.

 

As parents, we are plagued by nightmares – our children drowning while unattended, our children getting abducted, our children getting involved in drugs…

Our children having an active shooter at their school.

My heart began to pound. I started shaking. I texted her back.

As I called my husband, she continued to text.

By this point, I’m crying as well as shaking. My husband and I have a rule in place because, as a manager, he attends a lot of meetings. If I call three times in a row, it’s an emergency. I’ve called him twice now. I quickly text my daughter back.

As I’m calling my husband the third time, she texts:

My husband picks up. Our conversation is brief. Through sobs, I tell him, “There’s a shooter at Lily’s school!”

“What?!” His reaction is immediate.

“She says she’s safe. She says there are sheriffs with rifles in the hall.”

“I’m leaving now!”

“I’ll meet you at the school,” I reply and we hang up.

I text my daughter as I’m looking for my keys and shoes.

By 11:44am, just as I’m getting in my car, she texts:

On the way to the school, I phone my husband. I give him the update from our daughter, but we don’t know where our son, Damian, is or how he’s doing. Lily’s in 8th grade and Damian’s in 6th grade, and they both attend Murchison Middle School in Austin, Texas. We hang up so he can phone our son.

When I get to the school, there are parents waiting outside the school. I find my husband, and he says that Damian in not answering his phone or his texts. The bell rings and kids begin to pour between the portables outside and the classrooms inside. My husband and I don’t wait with the parents outside the building; we decide to go in. Inside, there are even more parents standing outside the administrative office.

The noise and chaos is loud and everywhere. The kids are all talking to each other and hugging each other. My daughter and her friends find us and we have a massive family hug, but we can’t get into the office to find my son. The office is still locked with all of the lights inside turned off. We see the people through the glass door stuck on the other side. My daughter starts telling us what happened and how scary it was.

“I was in lunch and there were like 100 kids. And they were yelling at us to get behind the stage. They kept yelling ‘It’s not a drill!’ ‘It’s not a drill!’”

Finally, the office opens and the parents stream in. There is little girl there with her mom – she’s so small that I’m sure that she’s a 6th grader – and her eyes are all puffy and red and fear is still on her face as her mom hugs her. I have to wait in line, and when it’s my turn, the administrator herself has to go get my son because they are so overwhelmed with parents. Only a few student office helpers are there, and they have all already been sent off to fetch other students out of classes.

Everyone is fine. No one was hurt. And when we finally get home, the following email has been sent by the principal, Brad Clark, to all the parents:

——-

Matadors,

All students and staff at Murchison Middle School are safe, and we are operating under normal procedures. Here is a summary of today’s event:

At approximately 11:15 a.m. we received a report that a man in plain clothes wearing a firearm was walking in our building. I immediately placed the building on lock down. Students and staff followed lock down procedures. AISDPD and APD officers arrived immediately to ensure the safety of all students and staff. Through the course of their investigation, it was determined that there was a man in plain clothes wearing a firearm in our building. They confirmed that he is a Murchison parent who was here on unofficial business to attend a parent-teacher conference and that he had checked in properly at the front desk but that neither me, security, nor our school resource officer was made aware of the the presence of a legally armed person in our building. We are working on a system to notify all necessary personnel in the event of a legally armed visitor to Murchison Middle School.

Please know that we responded well to the incident and that all lock down systems worked.

Teachers have been instructed to allow students to see their counselor if they feel the need.

I will re-send my REMIND link to you all with instructions for signing up to receive real-time updates.

Thank you for your understanding.

Sincerely,

Brad Clark, Principal

——-

For my husband and I, the adrenaline running through our bodies immediately turned from fear to boiling anger! A parent?! A “legally armed” parent was allowed into the school with a gun?! And not only that, but they were going to continue to allow “legally armed person[s]” in the school with guns?! Seventeen percent of Texas schools allow staff and/or board members to carry guns on to school property. At no point in the email did the principal reassure us that guns are not allowed in the school. No. He told us that they were going to put a better procedure into place to allow “legally armed person[s]” into the school with guns.

Principal Clark sent a follow-up email later that evening as his first email had created confusion. It was a much longer email and included the following paragraph:

——-

Understanding that many parents were learning of the incident from their children’s text messages, I felt an urgency to notify the community that we were safe and to provide a cursory explanation of the incident, which I did. In my initial email, however, I referred to the man only as “a legally armed person in our building,” rather than as a law enforcement officer in plain clothes. This omission was due to my uncertainty as to which branch of law enforcement the man works – police, constable, probation, parole, etc. – and my desire to provide you with a clearer explanation; however, I sent it before learning the information. This unintended omission confused some people and caused concerns about who can legally carry a firearm in a school. Please know that only a “law enforcement officer” can legally carry a firearm in a school.

You have my sincerest apologies for this omission. It was made in my intent to get the message out to you as soon as possible.

——-

Though I was relieved to know that parents in general were not allowed to bring guns into the school, this second email did little to stop my anger. In our national discourse, we’re having the ridiculous debate as to whether teachers and staff should be armed. I can now tell you that after today’s events at my children’s school, I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that I do not want the teachers and staff armed. There is no debate for me. I do not want adults routinely walking around my children with guns, not even off-duty police officers.

The NRA, politicians and pro-gun advocates have forced guns in the school with my children regardless of my feelings or views on the matter. My children had a man – a man that I know nothing about – walking around their school with a gun today. The terror that I felt, that my husband felt, that other parents felt, that my children and every other child in Murchison Middle School felt meant nothing. This story was barely reported on.

And that is when the hopelessness settled in. No matter what we say, no matter how many children and adults are killed by mass shootings, no matter how much fear and pain we feel as American citizens, it never changes. Year after year, child after child, life after life violently destroyed, it never changes. Our politicians will not change the gun laws.

This is my tiny voice. It’s so small. In the vastness of this world, among the masses of people, my voice is so small. But I have to try. We have to try, don’t we?

We have to keep yelling. “We want gun control!” Louder and louder and louder. WE WANT GUN CONTROL!

All of us, together, our tiny voices becoming powerful and one in unison. WE WANT GUN CONTROL! So loud that the roof of heaven can feel our pain and our resolve and our hope for our nation and our children.

WE WANT GUN CONTROL!
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Change Only One Habit at a Time

I don’t use cuss words a lot. They’re not terribly eloquent. But every now and then they are absolutely perfect for conveying sentiment. And now is one of those times, I feel.

Changing habits is a fucking bitch.

After the birth of my second child, I had become very unhealthy. Given the endless work of two small children, my husband and I resorted to a lot of fast food and processed food for quick meals. Eating these poisons disguised as food, our health declined rapidly. By 2009, I would spend days in bed because I felt too miserable, had no energy, and was in too much pain to get out of bed.

And then, I had That Moment. We all have That Moment in our lives. It has only happened to me twice in my life: once when I was 19-years-old and once in 2009 when I was 40-years-old. It’s when you wake up and say, “I’m not going to live like this anymore. I don’t want to be like this anymore.” It’s when you decide that you’re not going to be in an unhealthy relationship anymore, or you’re not going to stay working for a terrible boss doing a job that you hate anymore. For me in 2009, it’s when I decided that I didn’t want to spend everyday sick in bed and in pain anymore. I wanted to be healthy.

Now, fast forward three years to 2012. You would think that I would be the perfect example of health by now. I’ve been working towards this goal for three years. I should be glowing, strong and full of energy.

Did I mention that changing habits is a fucking bitch?

First I had to learn about nutrition. That was a journey in itself and one that I continue today. Then there were tons of attempts, failures, false starts and wrong turns. I’m much healthier today than I was in 2009. I don’t spend everyday in bed and my body isn’t in a constant state of low-level pain anymore, but I’m not anywhere near my goal of abundant energy and beautiful glowing health.

And here is my first bit of advice to you as I distill three years of experience into a single sentence: Change only one habit at a time. This statement is so simple and will be disobeyed time and time again by so many people, including me, and yet it is the cornerstone of change.

You see, when you change an ingrained habit, you spend the entire day in fierce battle with yourself. It is exhausting and you don’t always win. All of your effort and energy needs to be channeled into a single significant habit change. If you try to change more than one habit, your energy becomes diluted as you spread yourself too thin, and you lose the battle.

Recently along my continued journey towards health, I tried to change three habits at once. In my impatience, I lost everything and now am back exactly where I started at the first of the year. I’ve made no progress except to learn a very valuable lesson:

Be patient. Enjoy the journey. Quit counting down the days. And change only one habit at a time.

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The Source of Art

(Crossposted to: Life with Science)

Twelve years ago today on May 15, 2000 is when I first laid eyes on my future husband, Matt. We worked in the same company, but I worked in the Austin office and he worked in the London office. He had flown into Austin to train us on the company’s proprietary software. Other than Matt, I was the first one into the office that morning. We worked in a large, open-plan room with low-rise cubicles and the room was always dark because the programmers preferred for the lights to be off. He was sitting at a desk off in the corner working at a computer, his face lit up by the computer monitor in the dark room.

Two days later, I had a massive crush on him and two months later we were dating. And one year later we were married.

So May 15 is an auspicious day for me. It’s a day of love and beginnings. So, today is the official day that I begin writing as a career — truly begin. No more waltzing with fear and hiding from fate. I start work today.

And I’ve been conducting a postmortem in my head of all my past failed attempts. I can create brilliant small vignettes — little snippets of a story that read like poetry and carry deep meaning. But whenever I try to write an entire book, it reads, at best, like an 8th-grader’s attempt at fiction. The kernel of the story holds promise, but the surrounding prose drags it down into the realm of the novice, lacking clever timing and meaningful metaphor.

And why is this? My conclusion is that the failed attempts at an entire book have never come from my soul. Now, we can sit here and debate whether we even have souls or not, but the truth of the matter is, every artist creates from a personal and sacred spot deep inside of them. And when someone creates from this place of true emotion and lived experience, the resulting art has a life and an impact. Its beauty resonates outside of and separate from the artist.

And I think, when I’m forcing myself to just write through a story, that I’m not writing from that sacred spot. And the resulting story leaves the reader without an experience.

So, I’ll try to write from that sacred place. The story may be jumbled and it may meander untethered, but at least it will be true. And it certainly can’t be any worse than my past attempts.

 

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A Blank Canvas is a Gift

I’m 43 years old. Depending on your personal position on the timeline of life, you may think, “That’s so old,” or “Gosh, you’re still so young.” Or perhaps both. Old enough to feel regret but young enough to have the time to do something about it.

And I’ve been wallowing pretty badly in self-pity, going through my midlife crisis. As my skin begins to wrinkle and my hair begins to gray, I stare longingly at pictures of 20- and 30-something year olds, knowing that I will never have the stunning look of youth again. Those days are gone.

There are five stages of grief — the mourning of anything that is lost: 1. Denial, 2. Anger, 3. Bargaining, 4. Depression, 5. Acceptance. And I hope to goodness that I’m on to Acceptance soon because I’m becoming very tired of this midlife crisis thing. It’s been very annoying and inconvenient.

But in the acceptance of passing youth, I think that I’m finding myself. In the knowledge that I am the age that I am and there is absolutely nothing that I can do about that, I’m finding that I actually just like being me. It’s been a rough and bumpy ride to this point, full of tears, longing and anger, but I think I’m near the end.

When you are young, you constantly remake yourself in society’s current image of youth. Whichever subculture you choose, you wear the uniform and adopt the mannerisms to fit into your chosen group.

But none of that is available to you when you are older because all of our cultural images revolve around youth. We no longer are able to remake ourselves, left only with a blank canvas and painful longing and misunderstanding.

But every blank canvas is a gift. A divorce, a move, any kind of forced significant change: you are left shattered but with great opportunity. And, after being punched in the gut by life, when you finally get your wind back and are able to stand again, you realize that before you lies a wonderful, beautiful blank canvas. What shall I paint this time?

I’ll still miss my youthful skin, but it is pleasant to realize that I don’t have any references or ideas to model myself after. I have only me. And it’s going to be a lot of fun.

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When You Finally Allow Yourself to Be Who You Truly Are, You Become Heroic

It’s extremely hard to allow yourself to just be. There are parts of every person’s personality that are so intense and over the top as to be embarrassing. I’ll give you an example. I plan and make lists to a stupid degree. I’m the kind of person that would make lists of my lists. I have lists and planners and calendars littered around my house and filling up my hard drive. In fact, I make so many lists and planners, that I used to hide my habit, embarrassed of all of my silly lists.

The problem is, when you feel embarrassed, you also feel shame. And when you feel ashamed, you feel like there is something wrong with you. So I hid my secret, carefully guarding my book of lists and calendars, never letting anyone on my computer, fearful that my dirty little secret would be revealed to the world.

It was a heavy burden to carry and one that I could never get rid of because, in the end, my neurotic borderline-OCD planning is who I am and I can’t change that. It’s at the core of who I am. I can change habits, but I can’t change core personality traits. So I remained embarrassed and sad and carried my secret with me.

And then I watched my daughter. She is seven years old and she makes lists and loves office supplies and calendars. At the tender age of seven, she wanted to learn Microsoft Word so she could write her lists up on the computer and print them out. Sure, it’s easy to say, “Well, look at the environment in which she is raised. You make your lists and you have the big family calendar up in the kitchen.” This is true. Her environment nurtures this part of her, but it’s more than that. My son has absolutely no interest in lists or calendars. He could care less. But my daughter loves going to Office Depot as much as I do. Her desk is her sanctuary, just as mine is to me.

But there is one notable and significant difference between me and my daughter: she isn’t embarrassed. She embraces this part of herself with joy. She writes up her lists and plays with her calendar with a happiness that comes from within. She has so much fun, and she doesn’t care who watches her.

As we grow up and enter society and try to fit in, we start to hide parts of ourselves — important parts of ourselves. I’ve also hidden my love of Renaissance Festivals and Medieval music because I didn’t want to be seen as a big nerd. These parts of my personality slink around in the darkness like thieves staying to the night.

This message really spoke to me in How to Train Your Dragon. Hiccup wants so badly to fit in with all of the other Vikings who kill dragons. He tries desperately to kill dragons, but makes a total mess of it every time because, inside his heart, he’s not a dragon killer. There is a foreshadowing to this theme when his dad tells him, “You are many things, Hiccup, but a dragon killer is not one of them.” Of course, his dad doesn’t say this as a compliment, for to be a heroic Viking in the village of Berk, one must become a dragon killer.

And one of the most poignant conversations is at the very beginning of the movie as Hiccup’s mentor, Gobber, is walking him back to his home after he has made yet another terrible mess while trying to kill a dragon. And Gobber says, “Stop trying so hard to be something you’re not.” And Hiccup replies, “I just want to be one of you guys.”

And it’s when he has an opportunity to kill a dragon, and he can’t, that he quits trying to be something he’s not. And when he finally allows himself to be exactly who he is — a dragon trainer, not a dragon killer — he becomes heroic.

And that’s the message of this long-winded blog entry. I know it’s hard. I know from experience that it’s hard to allow yourself to be exactly who you are. It’s hard to publically admit that you really want to dress like Emilie Autumn or that you want to dance on stage or any of a million things that are hidden away.

But when you finally allow yourself to be exactly who you are, you will become heroic.

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Valiantly Suck

I want to be a published author. I want to be a writer as a paid job and a lifelong career. I love to write. I love to play with words and grammar and sound.

But I’m terrified. I’m terrified of being so awful as to bring ridicule to myself and any who bear the name Woodings. My literary crapness will echo through time like a death knell to all of my dignity and self-respect.

And, as you can imagine, this intense and magnified fear stops me dead in my tracks. I have eaten a heroic amount of sugar and I have played an epic amount of Warcraft. All in a completely successful attempt to avoid writing.

But the problem is, under the sugar and Warcraft, is an intense desire to have a career as a writer. So I have decided to Valiantly Suck. Maybe I’ll suck, maybe I won’t. But, even carrying the fear and possibility of being a horrible writer, I have decided to proceed anyway. Because the only other choice is to not write at all, and that choice is filled with sadness and regret.

Now to just not let the fear destroy the fun….

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Processing the Shackles of Pain

I am a prisoner, bound naked to a crumbling stone wall by shackles of rusted steel. It’s an awful prison with the sounds of dripping water, cries and silence as my only companions.

I’ve tried to leave this place many times. Being a vivid, almost physical, figment of my imagination, I’ve tried to imagine the shackles miraculously opening, freeing me. Or I have tried to find the magic golden key that will save me somewhere inside of me. But I always end up back in this nameless dungeon filled with sadness and shackled to the wall, searching — wishing — for the key.

The thing is, I do think the key is inside of me, but it isn’t a magic golden key created from wishes, prayers and tears. It is a heavy key as solid as my soul. It carries the weight of my witnessed pain. Only when I walk through the blinding, searing, burning fire of my pain will the key be forged. Wishes, prayers and tears soothe the intense burning, but it is only by walking the path that I will finally get out of this psychic prison.

I bury my pain under Warcraft, eating and spending. I shovel pile after pile of food, stuff and playtime onto my pain, trying to cover the searing fire.

But it never works. Pain is one of the strongest fires that forge the soul. And it’s necessary that I walk through it.

And to move forward, I’m going to have to face the shit that I don’t want to face. I’m going to have to admit to the things I don’t want to admit to. The other choice is stagnancy, and I’ve been living there long enough.

Am I feeling ugly and worthless? Am I feeling humiliated and tired? Am I feeling lonely and sad? It all needs to come out. I can’t keep shoving it to the side or trying to bury it, anything but look at it.

Open my eyes, look, speak and write. Allow the pain and fire to leave my soul. I must write with honesty and hope.

So, with tears blurring my vision and fear making me stumble, I move towards the fire. I’m tired of being bound to the cold, wet walls of this prison. I choose the key. I choose the fire.

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Another vignette from another book in my head

“That one is special,” said Grandfather Elder with a strong voice as he pointed to Klarissa sitting meekly in the back.

He came forward and pulled Klarissa out of the shadows and into the light so he could look her over. Klarissa was terrified at becoming the center of attention. “I’m… I’m not special,” she stammered as she stood trembling under his piercing gaze and avoiding his eyes.

His voice and his gaze softened as he replied, “We are all special in the dance and unfolding of the universe.”

“Beats is special,” she continued. “She is beautiful and brave.” Grandfather Elder looked at Beats who returned his steady gaze with her own piercing steady gaze.

“Yes,” said Grandfather, “Beats is special. But,” and here he looked back at Klarissa, “you are the one who carries the buried light.”

“Kam!” Grandfather Elder called for his grandson who stepped forward into the light. “You are to accompany them, and you are to train this one. She is asleep.”

“Yes, Grandfather,” Kam replied with a nod.

As Kam and Klarissa walked out of the tent, Kam asked, “You long to be Beats?”

“Who wouldn’t long to be Beats? She’s beautiful and strong.”

“She carries a lot of pain.”

“We all carry pain. At least she’s pretty and in pain.”

This made Kam laugh, but even with a smile on his face, he replied seriously, “While you do not accept yourself — while you do not feel and understand your own importance, beauty and poetry — your training will move slowly. You are swimming against the current, against the natural flow of energy. You are exhausting all of your resources on fantasies based on lack and inadequacy.”

This last statement stung. She could feel tears stinging her eyes but didn’t want him to see her cry.

“I’m sorry,” he said as he cupped her hands in his, “but as Grandfather said, you are asleep… in so many ways. You long for beauty when you have beauty. You long for strength when you have strength.”

“What do you know?!” Suddenly she was angry. She snatched her hand out of his. “What do you know of my pain?! Beautiful, am I? Tell that to all the boys who passed me over for a prettier face!”

He was quiet for a moment, weighing her anger against his words, before continuing. “You cannot move forward while you carry this burden. It weighs you down in the waters. Trust that you are exactly what you are supposed to be, that you are crafted with precision and poetry.

“There are many physical joys of life,” he continued, “and this is the only beauty that you, and many others, see.”
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And, shitzilla, that’s the end of the excerpt that I wrote in my notebook. What was Kam going to say! I really must write this book. 🙂

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Joy is Thought

More randomness from a notebook, this time from 2010:

“Joy is thought,” he said.

I sat up suddenly for this simple statement — the words — seemed to carry physical impact.

“Joy is thought?” I asked. “It’s what I choose to think, choose to feel.” The puzzle pieces were falling into place in my head. “It’s whatever glasses I choose to put on.”

“Yes,” he said calmly in stark contrast to my excitement. “That’s why I can’t give you any Absolute Truths. Life is subjective. And you,” here he emphasized you as he continued, “choose the focus, direction and filter of the lens.”

I sighed and leaned back against him, saying, “It’s a lovely idea on paper, but it doesn’t get the dishes clean.”

He chuckled softly. “Your vision is still blurry,” he said. “You still don’t see how thoughts create. Thoughts shape everything: fear, love, belief, hope, trust.”
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Life without goals is aimless and sad. Life with only goals is regimental and sad. Like so many things in life, balance is required. Goals and aspiration must be balanced with leisure and slow-paced awareness. And alternatively, leisure and slow-paced awareness must be balanced with goals, aspiration and hard, focused work.

The two modes of living, when combined, create a joyful, claimed life.
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Too much drudgery in To Do lists.
Missing the joy and play.
Structure and Fluidity combined
— Balance
———————————————————————-

You take what is real and make it real.

One day I’ll actually write a cohesive, complete book instead of various notebooks filled with random vignettes.

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