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Killing the Girl

Game of Thrones is now informing my take on leadership. In the past, The Exorcist was a touchstone to which I always returned.  Game of Thrones provides food for thought in every episode. All kinds of leaders are in action, some evil, some righteous. Different decisions are made and some thoughtful, some poor, some made with the help of advisors while others are made by the leader on her or his own.  While it is a fictional fantasy and therefore full of extreme examples, the show does provide lessons to be learned.

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In Season 5, Episode 5, “Kill the Boy,” bae Jon Snow has become the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Jon consults the Maester because Jon trusts him as one of the few people of integrity to whom he can turn. The Maester is over 100 years old, blind, and frail. He is not vying for power and has been loyal to Jon.  Jon appreciates his wisdom. The Maester knows a lot about the world. He’s an actual Targaryen but he renounced being part of the noble family to join the Night’s Watch.  So Jon seeks his counsel on a decision he has to make. As a new leader, Jon has already been questioned about his strength in leadership. Even when he was still a steward, Jon was mistreated for several reasons. As a bastard, he is on the lower end of the social ladder. However, because he grew up in a noble family, he is perceived as a spoiled rich kid. Though the Maester points out that Jon did not need to consult him, he offers this observation, “You will find little joy in your command, but with luck, you’ll find the strength to do what needs to be done. Kill the boy…and let the man be born.”  I liked these words so much I scribbled them on a notepad and I now carry with me to work.

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Another part of the conversation between Jon and the Maester involves the response to a decision. Jon feels half the men will disagree.  The Maester reminds him that half the men already do. In leadership and in life, there are always people who are difficult or divisive, those who breed drama or foster negativity. People will doubt me or want to get in the way of change; they woke up that way (and not looking like Beyoncé either!) I will have to deal with those situations in a way that will sit right with my values and with who I am.

Recently, I was reflecting with a friend who is new to educational leadership. I had previously shared with him my ideal of leadership with integrity. I know the reality is going to be difficult. I know I will struggle to be assertive and confrontational. I want to strive for my ideal. I want to lead in a way that when I get home to my family, I will feel good about a decision I made. Feeling good doesn’t mean jumping for joy. It doesn’t mean I won’t hurt feelings or compromise my “popularity.” I’m not leading to be liked. I’m not leading because it’s easy. I’m leading for a greater purpose and that is to serve young people.  Whatever decision I make has to be one my students deserve.

Like Jon Snow, I’m entering a new phase in my life. I’m excited about being the Lord Commander and feel ready to kill the girl.

Can-do attitude

When I was a little girl, my father worked in a food canning factory.  Canning plants could be found all over the Bay Area back in the day: the Shasta soda plant we saw on the drive across the San Mateo Bridge 812f141d-5bac-40e1-b164-8e391df5afb8_d

or the smells associated with various foods being processed in Hayward or San Leandro.  In my own home, an elderly neighbor taught my mother how to can jams and jellies.  This personal history with canning has been lost on me.  canning-button-026I have lost my ability to can.

When did this happen?  When this 45th Republican regime came into power?  When the third white boy from Peyton Place Bay Area cussed me out at work?  There was some kind of perfect storm this fall. sean-beanWinter isn’t coming, y’all.  It came. Ya llegó.

I have fought back in the usual way. I have been focusing on getting fit.  I have continued to dance. I have taken refuge in TV shows and books.  But my signature patience has worn thin.

Given the current state of the state, lacking patience may be a good thing.  It’s time to stop suffering like a santita and get into warrior mode.

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My favorite saints carry swords. Saint Barbara

My fear is that I’m taking it out on the wrong people.  I have become much less patient with my partner and my child.  Y eso no está bien.

Rambo was and is a soldier. He can take my stank attitude for the most part. He also has no problem checking me when I get to be too much.  M, on the other hand, is sensitive.  Don’t let the sass and side-eye fool you. My daughter is sensitive and I am the person who has the capacity to hurt her feelings the most.  She has told me so.  I am committed to being the great mother she deserves.

So while I’m freezing, it’s time to power through this change of seasons. winter-is-coming-1050x600While I may not be able to can with the trifling behavior of spoiled teens or the shenanigans occurring on a national scale, I know damn well there’s nothing to stop me from being my best self.  I can and I will.

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Right on schedule

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“He’s a God you can’t hurry,

You don’t have to worry;

He may not come when you want Him

But he’s right on time, right on time. “Traditional Gospel hymn

I have refused to give up on this Advent. (Last year’s Advent of struggle ) As expected, I have been put to the test during this season. On one hand, I have a wounded dragon heaving its last toxic breaths.

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Vandervals’ “Wounded Dragon”

On the other, there is the prospect of yet another round of hoping for a leopard to willingly change his spots.

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The guy on the right is the inspiration for The Police’s “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”

(Truth be told, I’m not waiting at all but I’m loyal to a fault and I will do as directed, even if I get a little Ben Linus on occasion.)ci-59798115230130361

I had a moment yesterday when I wavered, when all my anger, frustration, and indignation threatened to cloud my mind and fill my eyes with tears.  But I remembered to breathe, pray, and hold tight to my commitment to this Advent.  I moved forward in more ways than one.  Yesterday, I made a choice.

I’ve already owned my penchant for pettiness. Shoot, I even have the casual Fridays t-shirts to prove it. My pettiness is amusing at times, other times worthy of criticism. But it hasn’t held me back in the way my lack of self-confidence does. Oh sure I’ll dance on stage or on the streets with little practice. I’ll take the mic and put together a speech on the fly. But my career has been stifled by my inability to see myself as a leader.  I have worked for twice as long as several peers who are at the helm their own ships.  Yesterday, through the darkness of my emotions, I found the strength to own that my time has arrived. It is my time to lead, guide, and shepherd. I have vision, purpose, and integrity; now I am emboldened by the courage to stand alone.

At the end of a stressful workday or any day for that matter, I have to answer to myself, my family, and my God.  How have I been the best version of myself today?  How am I going to be the best version of myself tomorrow?  Soon, I will live out the answers to these questions in the spotlight.  My mistakes will be my own.  My decisions will be my own.  I will struggle and fail but I will learn.  That in turn will help me grow in the woman I was born to be.

While I may be tempted to take Hot Sauce out my bag and mess up a window or two, I can’t let others’ tomfoolery make me resort to my worst self.  I am finally going to fix myself some long overdue lemonade.beyonce-car

These hands will have to stick to prayer and to getting my paperwork together for my next job.  God will continue to give me the strength and patience.

My second career as an exorcist

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St. Dymphna in full effect

I went into my career because of my first principles. I love to read. I love to write.  I love to share ideas through conversation.  I love to help others.  So, fresh out of college, I stayed at my beloved alma mater, despite acceptance letters from prestigious East Coast universities(mi mama was upset about that for years), to get my teaching credential.  I was 23 and I thought I was going to change the world and somehow also write the next great American novel.  I’m 44 now. I have changed many lives, most importantly, my own, and my writing is still my true passion.  I still love books and people.  So how is it that in the past few years, I have found myself in the role of exorcist.  Que?  Como?

When I was six years old(be patient, y’all who know this story), my soccer playing dad  would take us to the park every weekend so my mom could hang with her besties and all the kids would play in a huge multi-age pack.  The big kids decided we could head to one of the soccer players’ home nearby and watch a movie on the Betamax. I was introduced to the horror movie that would stay with me por vida.  I know a thing or two about fighting el chamuco and now I have real-life experiences.  (Lessons from the Exorcist)Because while the devil may be a lie, evil is real, relevant, and very much embraced by many.  Pick a city anywhere on the planet.  Point your finger at someone you know.  Evil is there, giving you the side eye of all side eyes.

Though I’m only a few years into fighting evil as part of my nine to five, I can tell you some must-dos.  In no particular order:

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Fear is normal.  My head aches. My stomach churns. My heart starts pounding like I’m six again and the nightlight just burnt out.  Accept your fear.  Feel it.  Then move forward.

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Have a battle buddy.  Find a mentor who is strong, tough, and stable.  Your mentor, like mine, can serve as your coach and partner.  This is not work you do by yourself.  You will need someone to have your back.  Work on the bond you share.  You may have disagreements but you must share the same vision, mission, and purpose.  Of course, the demon will attempt to divide and conquer.  That won’t work if your team is strong.

Take care of yourself.  Sleep (though it may be disturbed for a few days or weeks depending on the situation.) Eat clean. Hydrate.  Pray or spend time in silence.  Doing battle with evil is like preparing for a half-marathon or training for Carnaval without the glamour or fun.  A weak warrior will fall.

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Finally, believe in the good work that you do. Believe in the good person you are and understand that this other individual is a hot mess for reasons beyond your control.  If you’re a really good person, realize that somewhere underneath all that maldad, there is/was a good person who got lost along the way. Know that you are protecting others by taking on this challenge. Now let’s go get ‘em!

Two leaders

I have been doing a lot of thinking about power and leadership lately.  Given what I do for a living, it is often encouraged by upper management and professional mentors; given the kinds of people in my personal life, my wonderful ensemble of artists, teachers, life coaches, and parents, it is often inspired by positive influences.  Life is complicated so choosing how to be empowered is equally complex and multi-faceted.  I have previously reflected on the difficulty of being one of the good guys(Not so prodigal) and on my tendency to stay positive in the face of challenges(Kermit mode).  But I have owned the urge to be ruthless (Ivan Drago mode).  It’s been a helluva week/month/year.

Soy rencorosa.  Well I can be. I pray for my enemies, often sincerely.  But a friend who betrays me?  Jesus, be a fence!  An electric fence with barbed wire on top because it’s all bad. Chain-link_and_barbed_wire.jpg

It’s an #icant situation of epic proportions.  In my personal life, it makes great writing material.  In the professional realm, eso si que no. So I got checked.  I know I can pull it together. Recently my horror at Ben Linus’s cold, calculating despicableness has turned into admiration. guest16

Ben knows how to be cool, polished, polite, and articulate while he plots your destruction.  Ben takes a Hannibal the Cannibal approach to leadership.

Pero no te preocupes, I won’t be joining the Dark Side any time soon.487096_v1

I came across another role model several months ago when I read Grace Jones’  I’ll Never Write My Memoirs.  As a child, I saw Ms. Jones (that’s what I call her because I RESPECT her) as otherworldly, manly, even scary. grace-jones-crazy-diva-photos-4_2015-09-24_20-17-31-571x430

But I always admired her. She was powerful in ways my meek little child self longed to be.  In reading Ms. Jones’ story, my admiration for a cultural icon became deep respect for a strong woman.  What better birthday gift to myself than to see her in concert. With my dance sister and confidante at my side, we made our way to the front row of the Greek.

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Ms. Jones did not disappoint. She was a force of nature. She was funny, quirky, sassy, and badass.

And though my little arms weren’t long enough to touch her hand, I definitely got close.  Weeks later,  her songs remind me of the power of love of life and self.

So how I lead will depend on the circumstances. I can be Ms. Jones or I can be Ben or I can be both. I will continue reflecting on how to be my best self when others simply cannot.  I will continue making others laugh, dancing with others, and being good to myself.  I will definitely be asking Jesus to run interference for me.

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Upside the head

“Just because you don’t believe that I want to dance…” The Gap Band
Nothing makes you more “woke” than a projectile launched at your head. It was a helluva year at work and no amount of running, samba dancing, concerts, books, film, and hugs from M can change that fact. With a few days left in my beloved vacation, I am reflecting on the year that was and the year to come. It will be my 21st year in high school education; despite the patronizing attitudes and perceptions of certain colleagues, I’m a grown ass educator.  There are times when I feel like not much has changed since I stepped straight off my college campus into the classroom. Thankfully, I have so much more experience, knowledge, and patience (one of these days, y’all gonna wear me out!) to stay committed. 
The projectile story illustrates some of the issues I consistently ponder.  See, what had happened was (you know it’s going to be a good story when I open with that phrase), we were having an ongoing issue with lunchroom fruit being launched against the walls.  Our school, like many public schools, does not always receive the care we would appreciate; it can sometimes look a mess.  So, we encourage our students to pick up after themselves to help maintain a clean campus.  
One overcast morning, I had said something along those lines to one of my students, A, as he exited the cafeteria with two apples, “I swear to God your auntie is going to get a call from me if either of those gets thrown today.”
“You won’t need to call her because you know I wouldn’t do that with you standing here watching me.” 
We laughed and he took his usual seat at one of the long tables in the quad.  Another student, B, approached A immediately and they engaged in a whispered conversation.  A shook his head and waved B away; he made sure I saw him do so. In the meantime, a group of students asked that I open our multi-purpose room so they could get out of the rain.  I opened the door and stood there so I could watch both groups simultaneously.  To my left, I noticed B grab one of the apples. I figured he would launch it at the wall in defiance of my earlier directive.  As the apple flew towards my face, I stepped away quickly. It struck the door with force. Pieces of fruit splashed onto my eyeglasses and face. The apple tumbled to the ground in chunks. Both the quad and multi-purpose rooms went silent.  I immediately called for B to approach me. Students began to use profanity as they expressed their disbelief at what they had witnessed.  I directed the apple-thrower to head to the office and used my phone to call his parent. I took photos of the ruined fruit and then continued with lunchtime supervision.  
This incident isn’t unusual on a high school campus.  Every day, a teacher or administrator faces incidents of defiance and disruptive behavior. Every day, students make choices that result in consequences that affect their academic progress.  Every day, parents are faced with the challenges of navigating adolescence with their children. Every day, I am called to treat each individual with respect and to remain calm in the face of volatile situations. Every day, I need to be ready to step aside for my own safety. 
There are two main reasons the apple-dodging incident strikes me as unusual.  One is that it was a first. I’ve been defied, ignored, cussed out. Once a student kicked my office trash can over. But I’ve never been physically threatened in two decades of physically breaking up fights and talking down angry students.  I can admit it shook me up for a day or two.  But that temporary anxiety does not compare to the trepidation I feel in working with certain persons.  I would rather field more flying fruit. That actually WASN’T the worst day in the work year; that is the unusual and somewhat sad reality.   After twenty years, the kids still aren’t the problem.  
Pretty much a daily task 
All this talk of rattlesnakes in pockets, el chamuco sitting up in that room for the exorcists to show up(Advice from The Exorcist) and finding my #innermongoose( #innermongoose) are extended metaphors, mi gente.  If you don’t know, now you know.  Y ahora que?  It’s time to woman up, get back in my heels and do what I do best: Lead.   

Still slaying in New 52 costume

All I really need to know I learned watching The Exorcist

“Especially important is the warning to avoid conversations with the demon. We may ask what is relevant. Anything beyond that is dangerous. He’s a liar. The demon is a liar. He would like to confuse us. But he will also mix lies with the truth to attack us. The attack is psychological, powerful. So don’t listen. Remember that. Do not listen.” Father Merrin to Father Karras, The Exorcist
For most of my life, my fear of evil understandably overwhelmed me. From my childhood ponderings about good and evil to my adulthood grappling with evil in the people I encountered in my personal life, I often felt passive and powerless. I often felt as if I had barely escaped a terrible fate. Working as a teacher and administrator in environments where violence was a harsh reality, I began to realize that societal evil could be battled through strength of mind and heart. If I could be stable, focused, and compassionate, I might be able to reach those affected by the negativity and hatred in the world. An incident with a particularly memorable student helped me reframe my thinking and lessen my fears. (Half-hour with the Devil, 2006) Changes in my personal life helped build my strength.
But evil ain’t goin’ nowhere. It’s everywhere. In  Ferguson.   In Oakland. It might even sit across the table from you at work. I come to the table, both literal and figurative, with all kinds of experience and training. But some people and the situations they create require a different set of skills and more importantly, a unique mindset. So I go back, way back, to a moment that shaped me. I go back to the movie that has had a strong impact on me, The Exorcist.
Lately I have realized that the horror film offers some practical advice. In preparing themselves to face a monstrous demon, the two priests must strategize.  The veteran exorcist(for y’all who haven’t watched and dissected this movie dozens of times like I have, the title refers to the man with a tough job, not the poor girl victim)mentors his younger helper. He points out that even conversation can kill.   
Y alli lo tienes. Because if you’ve read this far, you know I’m not talking about the movie. The advice given can apply to any situation in which you meet with someone who takes actions that purposefully hurt you or others and whose words are weapons. Speak your truth and shut out their negative energy. 
I played this clip three times yesterday, once on my desktop and twice on my phone.Do Not Listen from The Exorcist 
I played it before I went behind closed doors with my mentor to confront evil.  We walked out safely. But the battle has just begun. 
Perhaps I should acquire some holy water.