Writing at Ikea

“I know we don’t need it, but it’s still pretty cool.” -IKEA shopper

I’m wondering about the reactions of the shoppers as we sit here in a living room set writing. Do they think we’re store employees? Paid actors? Squatters? Performance artists? I imagine writing in this space as a quiet protest against the necessity of purchasing things, at least for today.

I think one of the chief lures of IKEA is that it allows us to visualize how our lives might look, going so far as to set up entire (cute, space efficient) houses within the store. I do value that they consider efficiency and beauty and that does make me likely to purchase something here rather than elsewhere if I’d made the decision to buy something. Things are also really cheap at IKEA, at least in terms of dollars. There are hidden costs of things, though. The emotional costs of having to manage stuff, to put it away, to clean it, the energy to replace it.

Writing at IKEA during the UNCCWP Writing Marathon

I’ve been thinking about objects differently over the past several months. From getting rid of 75% of my clothes to parting with several large bags of books and household furnishings, I’ve been trying to donate or trash things I don’t find beautiful or useful, preferably both, rather than asking if I might need the thing one day.

I realize that purging can be a privilege. There are things I haven’t worried about donating because I know I can borrow one from a friend if I need them again. And I don’t have the experience of ever having lived in a situation where I didn’t easily have my basic needs met, which I’m sure affects the way that those who have lived this way relate to material belongings.

The purging can be challenging, but the not replacing is even harder. I’m finding that I often have the impulse to purchase things for reasons other than the thing itself. I want to buy stuff when I restless or tired or lonely. I want to buy stuff that will change the way I feel about my relationships or my job. In the past four months, I’ve bought four items of clothing (recent weight loss made that seem reasonable), a book, and a cake pan. Everything else that I’ve bought has been consumable (toilet paper, food, shampoo, etc.). It’s been an interesting (unintentional) experiment. I’ve been inspired along the way by friends who live significantly more simply than I do and by blogs like Zen Habits and Becoming Minimalist. A slightly strange effect of this is that I’ve found that I’m holding on to the things I do have more lightly. A friend’s friend’s friend, stranger to me, is staying in my house this week while I’m away.

I’m still wrestling with this idea of stuff. Wondering when, if ever, I’ll ever go back to something that looks like my old purchasing habits. For now, I’m resting in this slightly uncomfortable space.

10am at Amelie’s Bakery

Bride to be in white wedding dress and teal shoes drapes over an armchair
Photographer and assistant flutter around
Someone wryly offers “I got married at the courthouse”
A woman in a steel neck and head brace converses with companions
A three year old asks her dad, “Are you going to write with me?”
Jeweled-tone glass plates and vases perch precariously from a wooden chandelier
A silent piano sits in the corner and piano music roars from overhead speakers
Clothes hangers dangle cockeyed over the bathrooms
Sharpie marker on the wall proclaims “You are here… sort of.”

Dear Charlotte, forgive me for saying you were boring.

Amelie’s French Bakery was the first stop on the UNCCWP Writing Marathon and my new favorite place in Charlotte, if for no other reason than it’s open 24/7.

Review of the Energy to Teach

I’ll be attending the National Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute for Teachers at UNC Charlotte for the next several weeks. I’m planning to post some of the writing I do for it here. You can also follow the twitter tag #unccwp. Below is a review of Don Graves’ The Energy to Teach.

Recently Anne-Marie Slaughter’s article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” garnered over a million views on The Atlantic‘s website. The interest surrounding the article and responses to it point to the great deal of interest in the question of how to apportion the limited supply of energy that each of us has.

Donald Graves’ book The Energy to Teach tackles this issue as it pertains to a profession in which its members often try to figure out how to do all that is asked of them. Burnout is perennial problem in the teaching profession.  After five years, over 30% of beginning teachers have left the profession.

Many articles have been written suggesting reasons for this attrition. Graves addresses the concerns, but focuses the majority of his book on offering practical suggestions to teachers to reflect upon their energy level and maintain or increase it, even in the high-pressure environment of many schools. Throughout the book, Graves offers a series of invitations for teachers to help assess their level of energy and find ways to increase their energy.

Graves undertook a study of teachers asking them to chart sources of energy and activities and interactions that took energy. He found that lack of control over space and time, lack of support, and difficult children were the primary factors that took energy, and a sense of collegiality with other colleagues and connection with students were the most significant sources of energy for teachers.

In the book, Graves offers suggestions for teachers for drawing energy from curriculum, colleagues, learning, assessment, parents, interactions between principals and teachers, and activities outside of school. He offers two detailed portraits of energy, analyzing how schools in Maine create atmospheres that foster teacher energy and how a curriculum coordinator in a Virginia school draws energy from her work.  He also discusses his interviews of professionals in other fields and how they find sources of energy and deal with energy drains.

The Energy to Teach offers practical suggestions and thoughtful analysis. Graves’ warm voice is also a welcome gift to teachers struggling with maintaining energy in their lives or those seeking to proactively address the issue.