Solutions > “They Should Really…”

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead


Complaining is incredibly contagious. Water cooler talk, teachers’ lounge loose lips, bitch sessions, venting, unloading, releasing. We all do it. Frankly, we probably all need to sometimes.

It’s natural to have a desire to release emotions and events and share something you don’t want to carry on your own. It’s natural to point out problems in one’s world. Surely, there’s enough to talk about, you could be occupied all day.

There are entire websites and even departments of organizations dedicated to complaints. If you have a complaint for the Baltimore City Police Department, you can call, email, write and mail a letter, or go in person. I shudder to think of the traffic of this website (for the curious, it’s Comcast’s own).

In an episode of This American Life, Sarah Koenig’s mother lists what she believes are The Seven Things You’re Not Supposed to Talk About. Her list includes: period, diet, health, sleep, dreams, money, and route talk. In the show, Sarah tackles these topics and tries to find stories that her mom will find interesting that are about these topics. I have to say, I freakin’ love Sarah’s mom. When she elaborates why each item is boring, her first reason is pretty much “nobody cares” and secondly, though she doesn’t point this out in an explicit way, they’re all complaints. While I am with Sarah and I admit there are exceptions to these topics always involving complaints, I too believe there are exceptions that can be interesting. But overall, Sarah’s mom is my “Spirit Brit.”

Complaining is necessary, sometimes. But solutions are just better. And by god are they more interesting! I don’t write this to dissuade you from sharing your woes with me–in fact, I like when friends and family turn to me. But, expect me to immediately launch into solution-mode. That’s what I do. Aside from real tragedies, I will not tolerate you whining. You wanna wallow? I am not your girl. Because we will move right to plans A, B, and C.

Being solution-minded is not easy. It requires an intense level of persistence, a generous scoop of naïveté, layers and layers of optimism, quarts of ingenuity, a wide range of humans to discuss with, a smattering of yoga, and obviously, at least one legitimate problem. For most of us, the problem is the easiest part.

My maternal grandfather was a complicated and a complex person (I had to look up the difference). Without getting into the network of details that made him that way, I will explain only why he relates to this piece. When Grandpop spotted a problem (as first-world as it was), he would solve it. The ceramic rooster in the kitchen looked too dull? He spent half a day shellacking it. Need to work on the car but there’s no place to put the portable phone when you’re in the driveway? He created a phone cradle which was a wooden cup lined with carpet that he screwed right into the outside brick wall. (Non-sequitur: it occurs to me now that he must have had his own masonry drill.) Not sure where the tools go? He created his own map on the basement wall with outlines for each of his tools to hang in the most correct spot. When the creepy doll that sat on the edge of the shelf next to the fridge kept getting knocked down, he superglued it to its perch. He created curtains for the windows in his shed. Solutions.

My mom must have inherited this from her father but in a much different realm. Earlier this week, her name was in print in the Baltimore Sun with an idea for our squeegee boys. The mayor is about to invest $2 million in guards for the boys who wipe windows at intersections. I like the squeegee boys. I like asking them about their lives. I enjoy offering them granola bars and I ask them to help me with the murkiness of the inside of my windshield because my heating and AC are broken. That said. It’s a bit much. We all have windshield wipers and wiper fluid and you know, we need the windshield to be transparent enough to even drive to the very spot where the squeegee boys are. So here’s Nancy’s solution. It was on WBAL radio several times the next day because multiple radio hosts loved and had to share her idea.

I’m in a business of solutions. Children come to us in all stages of joy and trauma and energy and depression and obsessive and withdrawn. We ball up all of this, and we try to help. Generally, people who work in schools (and actually work) are maybe best labeled as solutionists. Teachers do much more than teach. Assistants do much more than assist. Principals do much more than prince. We are in the business of youth solutions. That’s not to say that our kids are broken, but navigating the world for the first time is basically just a never-ending series of problem-solving situations. Just between Wednesday and Thursday of this week, I encountered the following: talking a Jehovah’s Witness through the process of reading about Greek mythology because she was failing ELA; finagling a field trip to the Reginald F. Lewis Museum (still working on this); talking a parent down in hysterics WHO ALSO WRITES IN ALL CAPS; hosting math tutors for girls who are failing 7th grade math; scolding scholars about the safety issue of being 12 minutes late for Crochet Club; attempting to fill the gap of a music program by organizing a singing group with another school; selling three hoodies to scholars who are cold in the building; and so on and so on. Are you planning on being late for Crochet Club–do you need my services?

Baltimore is not a place for the problem-minded. It is fortunately a place for the solution-minded. An orientation to solution-mindedness is a mindset. It’s a way of thinking.

Two of my least favorite sentence starters are “They should really…” or “Why don’t they…?” Because, honestly, who in the holy fuck are they?

You are they. I am they. We are all they. He, she, it are all they. They is even they.


I know I talk about the Baltimore Ceasefire Movement a lot. This is a recent message from Ceasefire. I saw this after I had finished writing and posting this piece. They really get it!

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” – Barack Obama.

If you see a problem and you want to talk about it, fine. But then talk about the solution. There’s nothing more unattractive about a person than complaining without seeking a way out, no matter how tiny the pinprick. And for most of the people reading this piece, I’d imagine the problems we encounter have solutions or at the very least, management strategies.

The next time you’ve got a complaint, see if you can do something about it. Because, sure, complaining is contagious. But couldn’t solutions be too?

Something I love about children is that they’re still flexible. You can still convince them that not all is lost. That problems can be solved. That solutions do exist. And I think, this is often a disappearing art for adults. Somewhere along the way we lose that belief in solutions like we lose our belief in the tooth fairy. And that, my adult friends, is something we can all stand to learn from children.


Let Emma Lou teach you. She says you should start by voting. You can type your address into google to check for your voting location and hours here.

Perspective: Baltimore/Amandy

Last spring, I took my absolute first stab at photography with Humans of Hampden, a piece I based on Humans of New York, a significantly more popular, well-known, and more talented artistic collection.

I borrowed Sierra’s old camera and literally just hit buttons and turned wheels until the camera worked to take photos. Somehow, I got a few I found worthy of a blog and with the powerful captions people gave me, I had something I was proud of.

Last weekend, I, on the total fly, joined a photography class, thanks to Shar and to a great guy I can’t help calling “Mr. Kyle.” Mr. Kyle (only in his mid-30s) does projects at Lillie May and a slew of amazing things in Baltimore. He’s just one of those people. And Shar and I (and lots of Baltimoreans) are both so grateful to know him.

In Mr. Kyle’s Perspective: Baltimore Adult Photography Class, I took the following, around Mt. Vernon, The Bromo District, Westside-ish, Lexington Market, and other micro-neighborhoods in Baltimore.



Sun-bathing elephant.


Skill. (Love taps, not pictured.)


Lutheran air quotes.



IMG_2613 2


IMG_2615 2

Two feet on the ground. Twice.


Moon, too.


From where I’m sittin’.


Floral snack.


Stacey is a whole snack.






“Little Buddy.” A tea cup, long chair Chihuahua (yes, I had to look up how to spell Chihuahua).


The forgotten in focus.


Loitering reflection.




Soaring liquor bag litter.


Through the spikes.

IMG_2724 2

My Sister’s Garden.


Gutter Poet.












Convex Amanda and Kyle.


Ambition doesn’t stop. Oh wait…


Raised. Zoom.


THE American Darling.




Lose ya head.


Blurry belief.


Flyin’ Brian.




Civilian Headform. Egg.


Modern real-life Dali.




Repairs needed.






Unwanted progress.


Friendship reflected.




Hair and hood.


Someone cared for this once.


Don’t lose ya head, two.


Hey Baltimore!


(caption included)


Baltimore is HOME.


Can you?


Lore and yore.


Yard recliner.


Invest in the fence. Forget the yard.


Modern ruins.


Alternative bumper.


Nuts. Since 1896.








Who named this street?




Push or pull?


Museum piece.




“[…]the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!” -Jack Kerouac


“All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts, His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms. Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel And shining morning face, creeping like snail Unwillingly to school. And then the lover, Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier, Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard, Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel, Seeking the bubble reputation Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice, In fair round belly with good capon lined, With eyes severe and beard of formal cut, Full of wise saws and modern instances; And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts Into the lean and slippered pantaloon, With spectacles on nose and pouch on side; His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice, Turning again toward childish treble, pipes And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history, Is second childishness and mere oblivion, Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” – William Shakespeare


Stay in your




Glory-free touchdown.


Unholy cross.


Vodka plant.


Vrksasana (tree pose).




“You are a child of the universe, 
no less than the trees and the stars; 
you have a right to be here. 
And whether or not it is clear to you, 
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.” – Max Ehrmann


YOU ARE okay.




The Hardest Thing to Gain, the Easiest to Lose


Photo by and photo of Icsha J., graduate of LMCJ, taken in a summer program called Youth Perspective Baltimore, launched at an exhibition by Muse 360 this week. (Icsha is not the “young lady” below.)

Dear Young Lady,

Do you know why vulnerability is so scary? Do you know why sharing yourself with someone else is such a challenge? Do you get why revealing your truth makes you shaky? Why you won’t share your secrets? Or say more than “fine” when asked how you are?

What’s funny to me is that all of these ways that you live, are the opposite of the way I live. I thrive by letting people in and sharing myself and treating my friends as family. When someone asks how I am, I leap at the chance to give the good, bad, and the ugly. This doesn’t make me better, maybe it makes me crazy. But I have no walls (and no filter).

But for you, I get it. I get why you operate in the opposite way.

It’s because when you let down your walls, you’re letting someone care and likely, you’re caring for that person too. You could get hurt, attached, broken, or worse, start caring about someone else. To quote the little kid with the big ears in Love Actually, “[What could be] worse than the total agony of…love?”

If you toe the line, if you keep cool, if you stay quiet about feelings and things that matter, you can be neutral. No extremes. No joy and no pain. When you tell me a half-truth or omit something important on purpose and I find out later, it doesn’t feel as bad as it would with another person. Because it feels like you’re protecting yourself.

But here’s the thing, hon. Trust is the hardest thing to gain and the easiest to lose.

Maybe I’m also holding back my trust because I know you’re not always telling me the truth either. But as much as I care about you, I’m not here for me.

I already told you this, but I’ll tell you again in this letter I’ll never show you. The other day when I was with the Ceasefire Squad in East Baltimore and they were burning sage and hanging posters, the owner of a liquor store came outside of his eyesore of a shop. He told us we couldn’t hang a poster on his boarded up garage. He didn’t trust us. Why would people want to hang a poster that reads, “Nobody shoot anybody”? Did we think that a poster would prevent “them” from shooting, he asked. Why didn’t we ask him first? Couldn’t we see he owned the whole building? From the glass-walled-inventory, to the boarded up windows, to the storefront crowded with people boozed up on things they didn’t need to be spending money on. From the sign for a failed campaign for State’s Attorney to the trash on the sidewalk, from the rat haven alley to the corner so stumbly-traipsed. And then again, “They’re still going to shoot each other,” he said. Because gestures tiny and gargantuan, when filled with love and hope, are hard to trust. Because why would someone care about this city? Why would someone care about this corner? Why would someone care about the people on this corner?

Or in your case, why would someone care about me?

Your story echoes throughout this beautifully broken city. Even when I don’t know someone is suffering notes of what you’ve suffered, that’s where my heart goes and it leads to my brain and I feel empathy that no one asked for. I see you all over the place. Older versions, younger versions, male, female, whatever. You.

Young lady, there are lots of ways to be. But you have to trust. You have to trust that there are more options than the ones you’ve known. I throw hope and love and questions and conversation at you and it’s confusing to you. I get it, I confuse myself, and I have no idea if I know even how to help you. But every time it feels like the Spanish Inquisition when we’re riding in my car, know that this is my way. This is my way of breaking down your walls, of showing you that I care, my way of inviting you to trust in me. Because I might be hard for you to understand, but I’m trustworthy.

So while your future feels uncertain, look around for what is certain. And know that while vulnerability and sharing and trust are really hard, that’s because they’re worth it.


Ms. Eby


Anxiety and the Advice I’m Not Legally Qualified to Give

When I think about the peak of my anxiety, I remember things in snapshots, which is funny because I took very few pictures during that time–an unexpected measure of life enjoyment for me at least. I remember staring at photos of Baby Bodhi and running two 5ks. I remember the night Lochdawg came over for dinner, a rare time it was just the two of us. I know I went on a field trip when the leaves were at the height of their colors and that that day gave me hope that things were going to get better. I remember Thanksgiving, our last one with Gram, which we couldn’t possibly have known. She read her Thanksgiving prayer book the entire car ride up to Aunt Carol’s. I know that Chris and Sara’s wedding was gorgeous and that Lauren and Jesse got a kitten named Fiona. I remember driving to New Hampshire and arriving as a blizzard drove in too, a little bit of skiing, and a lot of board games. I could never ever forget the Women’s March with my friends and my Aubrey. And all of these are the things I remember joyfully. And we laughed and we hugged and we ate great food and we enjoyed better company. There was holiday cheer and precious time with people we didn’t know we wouldn’t have with us just a year later. And I think I savored some of it.

But I know, because I also remember, along with these snapshots that I was walking around with a gray cloud above my head and that it rained on me the entire time and that in any happy event, I was also watching the sands fall through the hourglass until it wouldn’t be happy again. Until the vice grip of my self-created pending doom would return and I wouldn’t be able to sleep or enjoy people or let things go or notice sweet details or write or relax or breathe deeply into my ribs, then belly, then chest.

Enter Cymbalta.

Now, don’t get me wrong it wasn’t like Cymbalta, a Selective Serotonin-Norepinephrine Reuptake Inhibitors (SSNRI), was the first thing I tried and sunshine and rainbows suddenly filled my thoughts. In other words, I didn’t go straight to a pill. I spent maybe five years handling with my anxiety through exercise, therapy, and acupuncture. That cocktail felt like enough for a long while. And I still use all three, gratefully. But when I think about my lowest point, the fall and winter of 2016-2017, I know that Cymbalta completely changed my life. My life changes included increased time and presence with Chas and my family and friends, time with my girls outside of the school day. I wrote my own job description, threw myself into yoga and enrolled in teacher training. I started this blog and got back to writing. I saw more needs in my school and in Baltimore that I felt like I could address and then I started thinking about ways I could address them. I literally became a better version of myself.

I’m hardly unique. Anxiety for teachers is incredibly prevalent. I never felt suicidal, had an actual panic attack (I think) or went on disability nor left a school setting completely but I have felt a lot of the feelings this writer describes here. The article, from The Guardian out of the UK, is written by “The Secret Teacher.” Her account is sort of a hyperbole of my own but I have felt many of these feelings. She says, “…teachers play a pivotal part in society, yet society fails to recognise their worth. And so many people I value are still working in a system that is fundamentally flawed, ruins people’s lives and refuses to acknowledge the wellbeing of those who are fundamental to its success.” Quite literally, teaching is the job that becomes all other jobs. It makes the world go ’round. Also, according to this article from USA Today, teacher anxiety is on the up.

Without getting into research that explains why and because I lived it, I will just tell you. Testing, phones and screens, the cycle of poverty and the parenting that results or pressure on children to reach for unreasonable levels of perfection, and increased but often misguided “accountability” for teachers.

Enough about other teachers, back to me. I do think that I have a predisposition to anxiety and I’ve always been high strung but I also accept that teaching can bring that out in the most stable of us. There’s something about absurd pace along with the fact that teachers are “always on,” plus the gaps between where the kids are and where we want them to be and so much more. You have to believe in things that seem nearly impossible and even if you know that conventional success may only reach a small percentage of your kids, it is your actual job that it’s made available to all of them, and your responsibility. So, anxiety? Duh.

Enough about teachers, let’s talk about the whole world. Teaching is hardly the only profession rife with anxiety and for many, it’s not a profession that creates anxiety in the first place. It could be a trauma or a living situation. Or maybe it is a collection of many things, such as the fact that Donald J. Trump is our actual president. (#notmypresident)

2018 is pretty freaking unbelievable. You know. You’re in it too. It’s no wonder so many of us are all freaking out. But let’s not list those things and let’s move onto solutions.

Here’s my anxiety survival kit. From me and from my Cymbalta, to you. I am the farthest thing from a doctor or licensed anything (aside from teacher-gone-mad) but I have lived a life of anxiety so that equips me with at least some ideas that work for me. I welcome grains of salt as you read. Also, I should say, I’ve shared some of these coping mechanisms before but this is something that cannot hurt to revisit.

I will level these as they showed up for me.

Level I: I bite my nails and unconventional perils cross my mind from time to time.

  • Talk about it. Choose your own audience. Sometimes this is enough.
  • Deep breathing. 
  • Exercise, generally. Just get your blood pumping, muscles working, breath rising and falling, and move. Dealer’s choice.
  • Go outside.
  • Yoga (warning: I will put this in all levels).
  • Spend time with animals and babies
  • Meditation apps such as Calm, Headspace (do you like Australian accents?), and so many more. Try quick meditations before or after work, or in the smack middle of the day.
  • Shake things up. Move your furniture, clean, tweeze your eyebrows (not too much), bake brownies for your friend Amanda whose oven is broken.
  • Put down your phone and forget about social media. It’s dumb and makes us feel bad about ourselves.
  • For the nails, honestly, the only thing that helps me stop is getting a manicure. The problem is that the act of carving out 90 minutes and going to a salon is stressful in itself.
  • Music.
  • Go to bed earlier. Maybe you’ll wake up too early but then you can use that time on tasks, reading, exercise, or other fun.
  • Reconsider the way you speak to yourself and the words and messages you allow out into the universe, if only in your head–you’re still putting them out there.


Level II: I’m losing sleep over trivial and not-so-trivial things from the recent past or near or far future.

  • All of the above.
  • Try a meditation class. Many cities (can’t speak for ‘burbs and farmland) have Shambhala meditation centers. Here is Baltimore’s. They offer a variety of meditation classes for donation. I took one in January 2017. Five Tuesdays, two hours per session, a beautiful experience.
  • Yoga (I told you it would be in every category).
  • Therapy. Use this link from Psychology Today to find someone near you. Even the most mentally, emotionally, and psychologically healthy person could benefit from talking to someone. Maybe this should be in Level I.
  • Question your diet. Are you taking in foods that help your body feel well?
  • Acupuncture is incredibly restorative. Acupuncture Lauren (as I call her because I already had a Lauren) is an angel sent from heaven wrapped in a cute scarf. See her at Metta Wellness, try Mend which I have heard good things about, or any of the other two dozen spots in Baltimore. There are points that are directly tied in with stress and anxiety. You’ll walk out feeling like you dropped 20 mental pounds.
  • Don’t let the “good enough” be the enemy of the perfect.
  • Find a volunteer gig. May I recommend combining two of these bullets (volunteering AND exercise) and join Back on My Feet? Here’s the link for Baltimore but Baltimore is just the second of now twelve cities where BOMF has a presence. It’s quite possibly the best way to begin the day. I know that adding something else to your list may sound absurd if you’re here in Level II but research shows that focusing on someone else’s needs and helping others can improve your own mood, aura, and even relieve stress. 
  • Set small and reasonable completion goals for yourself for work, cleaning, laundry, whatever.


Level III: Uh oh.

  • Try a full throttle combination of the above options. FULL COURT PRESS. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
  • Yoga (see?)
  • Ask yourself some seriously life-altering questions. Is my job fulfilling? Is my relationship healthy and balanced? You know, stuff like that…things I have no authority to tell you to ask.
  • If it’s not against your religion, your dogma, your parakeet’s hopes and dreams for you, maybe you could commence to start to think about meds. I get the stigma. I was terrified of it. Sobbing, shaking terrified (well, I was kind of always sobbing, shaking at that time). But I feel like Cymbalta changed my life. And I am hardly one to fly the flag of the evil pharmaceutical industry. EVIL. I do think it help clear my rainclouds so that I could see the things I really wanted for myself, put aside the things that were not serving me anymore–including my anxiety–and launch into new ventures.


There’s one person in my world who seems unshaken by school settings, absurd working hours, and generally being the best employee Baltimore City Public Schools has ever seen–not an easy place to work. That person is my mother.

On October 3rd, she celebrated 41 years at the William S. Baer School in West Baltimore, an entirely special needs school serving children with a wide range of physical and mental differences. She has this new thing wherein she sends out an anniversary email every year on October 3. Here is this year’s. It is a fascinating look at what life was like in special education in the 1970s, and why my mom is one of the most unique people on this earth. And I have never heard her mention feeling anxious. So I guess my final bullet would be one that the entire world could benefit from, especially in these trying times.

  • Be more “Nancy.”
  • But when you can’t be Nancy, see what works for you and face anxiety head on. You will win.