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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Doing "Nothing" is "Something"

Don't feel like “doing” today…want to relax this morning after teaching my college class for four hours last night.

Slept in…looked at the clock…and rolled over. Permission to self to take the day off.

List of things to do can wait till tomorrow. Instead, sip coffee in my pjs on the front porch and write while the birds sing and the soft breeze and checkered sunlight caress my neck ever so gently. Enjoying a sunny day in Phoenix.

Ah, the luxury of musing, reflecting without deadlines, appointments and obligations for the day.

Simple and delightful and so different from my former self, the Type A, overly responsible, overachieving Super Woman who tried and at times did do it all…single mother, professional career woman, wife, hostess, etc. Exhausting.

No more. I have officially retired my Super Woman cape, and I don’t feel the least bit guilty about it.

My “self” has earned and deserves time without the requirements of work and responsibilities that compete for my time with me.

Putting me first is a relatively new experience after years of doing just the opposite for bosses, family and friends. It’s very liberating and peaceful to not have “to do” anything. I never had that choice or so I believed.

How lovely to finally know what it’s like to be free and not have to answer to anyone but me, a heady thought indeed. Just floating for now…see where the current takes me. During my life, the raft has taken me over the “falls” (divorces, moves, layoffs), and I’m still here.

The fears and worries of those times no longer have power over me. I realize now I did learn survival skills on my life journey, but the angst isn’t worth it.

Is my glass full or empty?

Both, I think: Full from my life’s experiences with some wisdom from my life's challenges and Empty of the cares and struggles of the past with space available now for what comes next.

Doing nothing for a day is good for something:)

 Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2010-11 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Alarm clock photo by Zvone Lavric

Sunday, July 17, 2011

By the Sea

I’m with my old friend, the sea…just the waves, a few sailboats, occasional shorebirds, scattered shells, polished stones and shifting sand.

The sea, my sanctuary, my place of worship and salvation… soothing, grounding, sacred, peaceful... calming and beckoning me...a place to be alone and protected where I can shut out the distractions of the world and my mind and become whole, balanced and connected—a respite for my soul.

Here I am free of worry, stress, responsibility and uncertainty, safe from a world of money, relationships, deadlines, and demands, uncluttered and unfettered.

The sea is a where I find serenity and basic shelter from life’s storms and disappointments with powerful forces that mirror my unconscious, shifting, mysterious, creative, unknown.

I am awed by the sea’s strength and endurance, its unceasing change: beauty in the bright sun, dusk and blackness—reassuring, lasting, and transforming like life itself.

Its shoreline provides an ever changing altar of glass chards, sparkling in the sun like tiny stain glass windows, hallowed ground for fish sacs, driftwood and seaweed.

The sandy tableau displays the sea’s random creativity and many moods reflected in the sun’s mirror complemented by the sky’s  backdrop, brilliant in crimson at sunset and stunning in black velvet with shimmering stars at night.

The sea is my sanctuary, life affirming, reliable and unpredictable, free to be itself, stormy or placid—no limitations, no should’s or have to’s, no one to answer to—a universal constant that transcends love, war, politics, career and family. It only answers to itself.

For me it is a deity without icons, saints, incense, catechism and hymns, and I come to worship as a parishioner who speaks and prays for strength, wisdom and direction.

This is where I become centered, renewed and readied to be part of the world again, a spa for my senses where I can reconnect all my parts and return revitalized to life.

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2009-11 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Sea Photo by Jack Oceano
Shell Photo by Karunakar Rayker

Monday, July 11, 2011

"Stand Up" Biology by Guest Blogger Brian Leiken

Third block biology is a bitch.

The class has improved slightly from the first two weeks, when the freshman capered about like wild spider monkeys as they devoured their sole source of nutrients, small orange bags of red hot chili nachos.

At first they dropped the refuse into the two foot deep lab sinks, treating the wash basins like trash pits.

Now they just stuff waste in the cabinets beneath the counters. I found close to sixty empty nacho bags in one of the back cabinets, complete with candy wrappers, plastic gatorade bottles, and miscellaneous junk food trash worthy of Homer Simpson.

I've never had to follow so many students outside of class wearing my Parrot costume; usually it's an effective deterrent. Embarrass one kid, and the rest fall in line out of fear of the same happening to them.

By the seventh or eighth victim. the class finally catches on that I would follow each and every one of them to their next class, squawking and chirping while flapping my wings, calling out their name at the top of my lungs in a squeaky parrot voice.

I've never had to follow the same kid twice.

Even then we had to call in the Dean and threaten to expel five of them.

And 90% of them had to fail the first half of the course before it dawned on them that they would have to repeat the class again.

So now it's better, if by better they (mostly) remain in their seats and they (mostly) do their work, even if that means copying from a friend. I'll take it.

When I enter the class now, there is a smattering of catcalls, mostly "LEIKEN" followed by two minutes of my making the rounds. Every boy, and some of the girls, want me to acknowledge them with the "ghetto" handshake of pounding hands.

"Mr. Leiken, I've got an important question! Who would win? Iron Man or the Hulk!"

"The Hulk." This is part of our tradition. I've got four boys who are obsessed with super hero match ups. So long as they do their work, I placate them.

Plus I really like talking about superheroes. If my college friends, John, Steven, Vinnie, or even my roommate Christopher were around, I'd be way out of my league, but the kids don't read comics. They only know movies, so among them I'm like a trivia genius.

"Okay, who would win, Superman or the Hulk?"

I grimace. This is going to take a while. "I told you before, Superman. He can fly, and they had a special Marvel vs DC crossover where the two fought and Superman won."

"Okay, who would win, Batman or Superman?"

"Batman." Four boys immediately begin protesting. How the hell can Batman beat Superman? I cut them off. "Batman cheats. He would trick Superman, and failing that use a kryptonite Baterang."

"Okay, who would win? Iron Man or Batman?"

I pause. That is a good question. "I'll tell you.... after you finish this worksheet."

The boys let out a collective awwww.

I make the rounds around the room, talking with students in clumps of two's or three's. Sometimes we can discuss biology; sometimes we go off topic. What can I do? I'm lucky to get them to pay attention for even a few minutes.

"Mister Leiken, Mister Leiken!" one of the girls calls out. "I've been calling your name and you've been like ignoring me for the past five minutes!"

"There is one of me and forty of you. What is it?"

She thrusts the worksheet out in front of her. "I don't understand it!"

I put it down in front of her and have her read the first paragraph. It's about the water cycle. After we read it, I ask her the first question. She answers it.

"Did you even read it?" I ask her.


"Why not?"

She actually looks embarrassed.

"Hey, Mr. Leiken! Yo Momma so fat when she gets on a scale, it says to be continued!"

I look at the clock, five minutes until the end of class. I should yell at him, I should give him a stern lecture, I should do a lot of things.

But I can't let that pass. My mother's honor must be satisfied.

"Oh yeah," I snap back, "Yo Momma so ugly that when they put a bag over her head, and she looks in a mirror, it still breaks."

The class cracks up and lets out a giant oooooohhh!

Unlike the kids, I've got fresh material. I think of yo momma jokes on the way home.

Don't ever mess with a writer.

"Yo momma's so big," I continue, "they had to put in a double wide garage just to let her in the house!"

The class is laughing hysterically. Another, another, they cry! I give the kid a chance to make a come back. If you don't use original material, the kids will call you on it. You can't repeat an old yo momma joke; that earns you no respect.

Time to move in for the kill. "Yo momma is so fat, when she steps on a dollar bill, you get back change, minus fifty cents!"

My heckler is silent. A chorus of boys in the back begins to chant Cu-ler-o! Cu-ler-o! This basically means "girly man."

Who knew that my years of doing "stand up" would pay off in class?

Copyright 2009-11 by Brian Leiken

Biology 9 photo by Sabrena Carter
Hulk photo by Mauro Martins
Man with Michophone photo by Michal Zacharzewski

LA Teacher Blog

Brian Leiken is an L.A. inner-city, special ed teacher and author of Crossed Out, a book about and for his students. Oh yes, he's also my son:)

Crossed Out by Brian Leiken at