you are my sunshine

it’s not a callous.

the edges of my pointer finger, the frame of the nail i coated in glitter polish during a late night wander through the makeup aisles of duane reade (so many TRY ME’s, i stood no better a chance than alice had), are just a little tougher. just a bit harder to the touch. maybe, just a shade stronger.

if anything, it was the new perspective. boyfriend has vision, and he is always eager to help me see. he finally got a chance to flip the furniture arrangement in my apartment when i was sick & useless on the couch (thankfully, he had moved that piece a few weeks before, so i didn’t have to be feng shui-ed), & it’s beyond an improvement. it’s like getting a new apartment. he’s good that way (many ways).

so, suddenly, in addition to this broad avenue of space to practice yoga/sock-slide into the bedroom, in addition to better light & less yawning, bleak wall space, the ukulele was just more there. lower on the shelf, more visible somehow. & i woke up one morning & thought, yeah, i’ve got 15 minutes.

of course, it took that only to tune it, & even though i had only the cats to judge me, i was furiously embarrassed. but i was in it, too. it was going to be tuned & it was going to be strummed, sorry to the neighbors (but maybe also stop stomping everywhere).

it was a grey day. the cars sloshed along 2nd Ave, their usual murmurs amplified on the drizzly streets. cold air, hinting at winter, seeped in around the edges of the windows. the song came like a dream.

it’s simply played on the uke. strum C for awhile – down, down, up-up, down-up down-up – and then F sharp. back to C, back to F#, back to C. G makes a brief appearance, but finish strong with C. it’s simple, like the song, and it feels right, like the song.

the thing is, “you are my sunshine” should be sad. it is sad. the lyrics, certainly, but even the melody is a subtle blend of childlike sing-song & a touch of melancholy, like a nursery rhyme that has grown up. even so, it made me smile, it made the whole room brighter. the cats, dopey as they are, followed me around the apartment as i strolled & strummed, their tails high & their chirps completely discordant. i laughed through the umpteenth replaying, fumbling the transition to G from C, starting over.

a few days later, boyfriend sent me a voice message, with the text note, “it’s a work in progress.” i was waiting in a line, tired, cranky. his voice was warm and jovial, round on the vowels. filled with smile. i was grinning, dopey, singing along. the woman in front of me turned & laughed once, politely. “i love that song,” she said. & we just smiled.


what if?

sometimes i play this terrible game, the what if? game. boyfriend hates it. he can’t totally dissuade me from playing, so instead he tries to refuse to play with me. i manage to pull him in every now & then, though.

it’s a simple game. i play it when i feel anxious about trying something for the first time, or entering into a new situation. i sit down, take a few breaths to clear my head, & think about the upcoming opportunity. i let myself focus on it for a moment. & then i think of everything that could go wrong, every reason i shouldn’t take this chance. & i ask myself “what if…?”

what if…i take this new job & everyone hates me?
what if…i’m not really good at my job & that becomes apparent in the new place?
what if…i submit this article & no one wants to publish it?
what if…i let everyone down by not following through on this?
what if…they didn’t really want me to come?
what if…i make a fool of myself?

i don’t know when i first started playing this game. it feels like i’ve always done this. when asked why i do this, i’d always defended the game, saying that i was preparing myself for the worst-case scenario. i was looking at the situation from all angles, to make an informed decision.

really, i’ve just been giving voice to insecurity, giving it a seat at the table to weigh in on my decisions. the problem with the what if? game is that all the what ifs have the same answer:

don’t do it.
it’s too risky.
it’s not worth it.
you’re not worth it.

this isn’t about preparation, or looking at all sides. this is about holding myself back. & it’s a frustrating thing, to put so much work into getting away from those who have oppressed your voice & your spirit to find that you’ve been nurturing one of them inside you this whole time.

so i’ve been attempting to flip the script lately. i’ve been asking some different what ifs?

what if…i take really good care of myself this week?
what if…i eat good food that i’ve cooked myself, work out on schedule, sleep on time?
what if…they publish this article?
what if…i get this grant?
what if…i get through this whole to-do list today?

i’m not expecting miracles. i know i’ll still play the game by the old rules sometimes. but i do have to say, it’s a lot nicer this way.

breathing out


i had this amazing day.

one of my closest friends brought her students up to the bronx so our brilliant scholars could interview one another about immigration and bring american. it played out even better than i’d hoped, the kind of good that you can’t plan for, the kind of wonderful that just unrolls before you. i floated around the room as our students sat in small clusters, eavesdropping & beaming as i went, my heart ready to burst with pride. when our new friends left to head back to school in brooklyn, i turned to my students, grinning.
“guys!” i cried out. “i’m so happy! are you happy?!”
“yes!!!” they cheered. “thank you, ms,” they told me over & again.

it was such a wonderful day that i thought nothing could ruin it. & nothing did, not even an annoying meeting with an annoying colleague. but when i found myself sharing the train home with a coworker known for glass-half-empty complaining, all that came out of me was negativity. i listened to myself complain all the way through the bronx. i tried to remind myself that the amazing day with my students was so much more valuable than the few moments i spent with a colleague who rubs me the wrong way. by the time i trudged off the train to make my transfer, i felt both deflated & heavy. i waded to the other side of the platform, trying to shake off the conversation of the past 30 minutes. it nagged, until the need for fresher air sent me above ground.

it was cool & clear, just warm enough to leave my coat draped over one arm for a little while. i meandered home from 125th, breathing in what i hoped was the beginning of spring, breathing out the smoke that was fogging my brain.



fever crawls under my skin, making me prickly & tender. the pressure in my head threatens to burst me like a grape; standing in the supermarket, too close to the refrigerated aisles, the world bends & swims. gravity presses against me like we’re huddling for warmth. have i ever appreciated the effort of standing, the accomplishment of walking upright? home, layered under borrowed winter coats, sleep is a dark, warm crevice in the earth. it swallows up my fever dreams & i lay in the blackness, melting, thawing.

back on the horse


four days! three days? i certainly didn’t intend to skip any days of writing, let alone three-maybe-four. is it three? 25th, 26th, 27th. three! oof.

i’ve been feeling rundown & overwhelmed, & those two feelings tend to feed off of one another in me. more work means more exhaustion, being tired means feeling more stressed & desperate, more stress means everything hurts more, etc. boyfriend helped me take some lloyd dobbler advice, though, & “just get in a good mood.” he was nicer. he said, “put your all into everything you do today.” & it worked. i mean, it helps that i love my job, but two classes later, i felt better – physically & mentally – than i had all week. that same night, for parent-teacher conferences, i forewent the offer of a student translator & spoke Spanish with the parents who came alone. they were all encouraging & grateful, & complimented my skills (or at least my efforts). it felt good. i felt connected & involved, the way climbing a mountain makes me feel like part of the world. so often when i’m feeling overwhelmed or stressed or sick, i turn inward & make myself lonely. i forget how valuable it is to connect. the work is still there, the time is still short, my back still aches in the most annoying spot. but i can shift my perspective a bit, reevaluate my priorities. the road before me smooths out, just enough.

it’s working!


Email exchange with a student, E, as she worked on revising her historical fiction narrative this weekend.

E: Do I need to add more details in my story or do I just need to rewrite my story
Me: I think more details are always great!
E: I think it’s fun to add more details right. Thanks for your response.

My heart: *poof!*

I’ve been really down about the way many of my colleagues look at our students’ writing and progress, and this was such a welcome note of cheer. Fun! To write! It’s totally working. 🙂

Commenters/lurkers! I’d love to hear about your latest smile-inducing triumphs. If you’re reading this, please share some joy!