I don’t think this is the same as commitment phobia, but they’re definitely some shade of cousins.  I have found myself thinking more about intentions–setting, holding, and changing them–in the last two years than ever before in my life.  This is partly because of their relationship to boundaries, another neat new trick I’ve picked up recently.  If boundaries dictate how far in something can come, intentions hold a similar function for outward motion and direction.  However, the other reason I’ve been thinking about them is because they seem like the healthy halfway point between agenda and chaos.

“Wait, wait,” I can hear you thinking, “aren’t intentions and agendas the same thing?”  All things are subject to interpretation of course, but my answer is no, I really don’t think they are.  And in fact, the more I think about the two side-by-side, the more I’m convinced they are not the same thing.  An analogy perhaps?  Imagine a lovely weekend morning–warm, blue sky peeking in from the blinds, no alarm to slam you out of whatever sleep you were in, and a slightly less than half full bladder.  You know you could get up and take care of it, but that would require surrendering perfect pillow and blanket formation.  You decide to roll back over for half an hour.  That’s intention.  It doesn’t require you to ignore where you are now and take immediate action.  It helps shape your purpose without cementing your purpose.  Now imagine that your half hour turned into ninety minutes, your bladder is now 90% full, and your cat does a WWF style dive from the couch to your belly.  “Godfuckingdamnit cat!!”  You are up, seriously up, right then, no questions asked. Doesn’t matter if your lover wants a good morning kiss or your kid wants to know why peanut butter doesn’t come in more colors than brown, you bypass them all for the potty.  That, to me, is agenda.  A checklist that requires the application of force to be finished to your satisfaction.  Checklists aren’t a problem if you’re going grocery shopping, but they become very unsatisfactory as a way of life.

It took me a LONG time to figure this out.  I missed a lot of moments because I was busily figuring out in the back of my head how to advance an agenda–date me, be my friend, comprehend standard 8.2a!  Only when I admitted that part of me liked agendas, nay, LOVED them, was I able to start to unravel the knot.  Agendas allowed me to pretend I was in charge, confident, efficient.  Agendas allowed me to start on actions quickly, quantifiable actions that no one could label as passive.  Whereas, if I start the day with an intention to listen or an intention to be curious, I can do either of those things whether I’m doing the dishes or applying for jobs.  Thus, it can take a little longer to get things started, but they are ultimately not coming from fear.  Intentions give me the pace and the ability to welcome surprise that I desire, but are not as easily recognizable as good adulting to the outside world.

However, here’s where the problem shows up for me.  It’s not the fear that the adult world won’t recognize me as one of their own–I’m getting less and less worried about that.  Rather, it’s the fact that so many people seem to think that agenda and chaos are the only options.  While  I understand either/or thinking all too well, it’s frustrating as fuck to see in others, now that I’m moving away from it.  I have the annoying earnestness of a new convert that can’t quite understand why people don’t yet “get it.”  Why set out to win a race or bob around like a buoy in harbor when you can glide along the shore in your own time?

I see this more and more in students, to where sadly I can say it’s become a trend in the last five years.  They’ll do what they’re asked or not, depending on their conditioning, but little to nothing more.  And then, if that bob-along method of academics doesn’t get them what they want, there is genuine surprise.  An intention to learn is becoming a foreign concept for many, while an intention to get a grade or get to the end of the day is alive and well.  But it doesn’t stop there, or else maybe I could just write it off as teenage laziness.  Although it could be said that it’s “just the way it is” with online communication, I marvel as man after man approaches me through online dating platforms with absolutely no intention of any kind–not to get to know me, not to try and date me, I don’t know, maybe it could be said their intention is to pass the time??  I am currently on the third month of an ongoing dialogue with a man who seems perfectly happy to trade a line or two every three to five days.  Usually I would have deleted/blocked this person by now, but it has gained the fascination of a bloody car wreck on the side of the road.  If you read the transcript, at first I start out in my usual way, trying to get to know this person who has said hello, asking questions of genuine interest, and not just, ‘so what do you do for a living’?  But I’m now at the point where I’m genuinely curious about how lame and disconnected I can be before he gives up.  I have answered ‘cool’ in 8 of my last 15 replies.  Not ‘cool’ with a winky face or ‘cool’ and then a follow up question, just ‘cool’.  One word.  It occurred to me a few days ago that maybe he’s in prison and doesn’t get a lot of computer time.  So this conversation is somewhere between an experiment and a public service.  Cool.

Maybe we fear that an intention will look like an agenda?  We will be perceived as pushy?  Is the responsibility of engaging gently more complex than we can handle?  Is the ‘whatever happens happens’ mentality really the more enlightened stance and I just haven’t gotten there yet?  I still have my agenda-dominant days or moments, but increasingly they give me less and less pleasure.  Can we have agenda and intention in the same moment?  I don’t know, but I do know now that there are more than two ways to face outward.  I suspect there are many more than two.  I intend to discover them.


Kids are smarter than grownups

Kids play more than adults.  Kids sleep more robustly and often than adults.  Kids tell the truth more.  Kids ask more questions.  Kids do all the things we’ve told ourselves we’re not allowed to do anymore because we’ve absorbed external rules.

In short, kids are smarter than adults.  This is a commonly held belief among most teachers, and probably even a few parents.  I have often told my students in thirteen years that they should be teaching me, and just recently they did once again.

My after school creative writing club is one of the many small, nerdy corners of campus, aglow with the brilliance of unfettered brains at play.  If we’re not talking about how it might be possible for one character to kick another character’s eye out, we’re counting the teeth on the tape dispenser, or arguing about what would happen if age were non-linear.

Our writing prompt on this day had challenged everyone: describe a piece of clothing you keep around just for sentimental value.  I heard pages being sheared from the spine of notebooks on either side of me.  As is my way, I started in with poetic intentions, but quickly grew frustrated to the point that I wrote the word ‘stupid’ over and over again in my notebook.  Eventually I found my way into some writing that really stirred me, but when I later started to share I broke the cardinal rule.  “So, I like this piece towards the end, but the beginning is funky I…”

“Disclaimer!” a red headed eighth grader bellowed.

“Yeah, you said no disclaimers, don’t abandon your children,” my moon eyed sixth grader jumped in (I always love it when they quote me to myself…no, no I don’t).

“You’re right folks, you’re right.  No more disclaimers, here ya go.”

“And you’re going to read the whole thing?”

Sigh.  “Yes, I’m going to read the whole thing.”


Wore my surprise lightly,

bare limbs that don’t apologize.

Slid into my surprise sweetly,

like moon milk,

no investments or connections.

Took a hold of my surprise and danced it

across warm wooden planks

(Then comes a large section of scribbling)

This poem is stupid.  This poem is stupid.  Why is this stupid poem so stupid that I want to punch it’s stupid face in.  Has anyone ever written a stupider poem??????  Stupid, stupid, STUPID!@#$%^&*

But I do want to write about surprise…how it shows up and all of a sudden you are open to everything and it all glows.  I feel humbled by the growth, the passage I’ve taken to end up here.  And now I’m cheering surprise on, still the underdog in the race of my life, but not the furthest behind anymore, and I’m screaming and jumping at the finish line saying, “GO SURPRISE!!  YOU CAN DO IT CRAZY BASTARD!!”  And I spill my Gatorade on the guy next to me in the crowd and the sun is hot and the gravel on the ground smells like freshly painted walls and I know that it’s happening.  I’m going to be surprised–not by a student, or by walking the streets of San Francisco, I’m going to be surprised by me.

And I never expected it.


“Miss Delaney, you shouldn’t get rid of the middle part, it’s really funny.”

“Yeah, and it’s like it’s doing what you’re talking about with surprise, the writing surprised you.”

“Totally, and it’s really easy to relate to.  My brother spilled Gatorade on me once.”

“Why would you want to hide the realest part from anyone?”
Why would I want to hide the realest part from anyone?  I wouldn’t my precious geek squad.  I definitely wouldn’t, and yet, with all the work I’ve done to come to that conclusion in the last handful of years, I still hide the rawness more than I’d like.  I still walk around with Nin, Whitman, Oates, Lamb, Robbins, and a host of other aireyed communication icons in my head, when in fact those would be the exact people who would shout to me, “Blow it all the fuck up and shower the world in gorgeous, awkward, liberating, bloodyglittered confetti.  You know you wanna!”  (And then in the X-rated version Tom Robbins would lay a big ol’ kiss on me and I wouldn’t even care that he cops a feel.)

They’re right, I shouldn’t get rid of the middle–not in writing, not in life.  It took me three years going to middle school and thirteen years teaching it to finally start to grasp that truth.  I told you kids are smarter than adults.




Renthics: The Ethics of Rent in the Bay Area

My current studio apartment is significantly smaller than my classroom.  Granted, I’m not trying to educate thirty 8th graders in my apartment, but I do have a queen size bed and a crap ton of cat toys to contend with.

When I moved from San Francisco to the South Bay almost four years ago I was paying 1050$ for a studio near downtown.  At the time that price took my breath away, but I didn’t have to turn sideways to fit down my hallway like other places I’d seen, I was not technically in the Tenderloin, and as friends continued to assure me, “Wow, you’re lucky.”  So, I felt lucky.  Little did I know how lucky and how much I would miss rent control when I moved.

Starting April 1st I will be paying 1400$ for the aforementioned bebbe studio, and doing so with begrudging gratitude because it is absolutely the cheapest place in Mountain View (I know, I looked/keep looking).  I’ve joined in rent control protests and rallies, full well knowing that it probably won’t change the prevailing trend, and I am writing the following letter to my landlord in the same spirit of being active and not passive about my life.  Feel free to send it to your own landlord with your next rent increase.

To whom it may concern:

I have lived at Park Lane for almost four years now.  In that time I have enjoyed the beautiful trees, an attentive manager, and well maintained grounds.  I have tried to be a responsible neighbor and tenant.  I recycle, pay my rent on time, help an elderly Indian lady up the stairs with her groceries, return lost keys to the office, and try to conserve resources.  As a responsible neighbor and tenant, I have a concern I’d like to bring to your attention today.

While I understand that property ownership is a business that takes money to run and not a charity, and that you want to remain competitive with the rents in the surrounding area, my rent has risen 310$ in less than four years.  As a teacher in the Mountain View Whisman School District, this means I now pay more than a third, and very close to half of my monthly income on rent.  I do not hold you responsible for the poor treatment of teachers everywhere, that would be ridiculous.  However, if I can barely make ends meet, I wonder what my neighbors who have young families are to do?  Leave is the “easy” answer, but is it the best long term answer?  Is it one that supports everyone’s interests?

As a property owner, you have the unique privilege of helping determine the make-up of a city.  So what happens to your city when I can no longer stay after school to help students or come to weekend events because of my forced commute?  Do they continue to stay out of trouble?  What happens when workers feel no connection to the local economy because they are all coming from elsewhere?  Do they keep spending at local businesses?  Community culture, sustainable expansion and building, and many other things depend on a diverse population that takes care of this place because it is ‘ours.’  This leads me to the question: Just because you have the right to keep raising rents, should you?

I know there are maintenance costs in running a property that are quite significant.  However, I humbly ask that you take a moment today to consider some of the other costs I have mentioned, the human costs.  Do you want a city or a world even where we do things just because we can get away with them?  What would it look and feel like if you stood heroically against that tide?

I appreciate your time immensely, I know you must be a busy individual.  I will continue to responsibly enjoy your property for as long as I am able, attempting to live in community and awareness of those around me.  Please feel free to contact me if you would like to speak in more detail about any of these matters.


Chelsea Delaney