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When I was twelve, my father came home from a long business trip abroad with a magical gift just for me: a Polaroid camera with half a dozen boxes of film.  This was, even among my classmates in our ritzy Bombay school, an item to be marveled at and coveted. One glorious afternoon, I gathered a group of friends, and we spent hours taking pictures and then watching, mesmerized, as muddy shades of umber turned into clear images of ourselves, and the assorted rocks and flowers and tumbleweeds we found on our school grounds.  For a long time, I thought that the Polaroid was  a metaphor for the way life would work out – little by little, all would come into  focus, everything would be revealed.

Of course, time and experience has taught me otherwise. Revelation is the result of effort – thinking through problems, grappling with difficult issues, fighting for what one believes in when necessary, giving way and making peace when needed.  Things come into focus, not by magic, but by concentrated effort – by paying attention to the moment or the task at hand, and honoring it.

In the last year, however, it has become quite a challenge to maintain focus.  I chose my 2014 OLW – “pause” – thinking that what I really needed to do was just slow down and savor the moments I felt I was rushing through.  Here’s what I wrote last year: I will pause to reflect, to savor, to cherish. I will pause to be grateful, to be aware of the moment, to be in the moment.   I tried to do just that.  And, for the most part, I did succeed.

But…something is still missing…

I have come to see that as opportunities and experiences have come my way this past year, I have struggled with focus.  I feel myself being pulled in many directions, wonderful and exciting as they are.  Every task or interaction seems a split screen – one half what I am actually doing, the other what I think I need to be doing.   My ah-ha moment arrived last week, and with it my OLW.  I had finally managed to reach my mother in London; she had been unwell and I hadn’t wanted to call lest I disturb her much needed rest. Every moment of every day that I did not call, I thought of her and felt the need to hear her voice.  So, there we were, finally able to exchange news and chat about the holidays, and what was I also compelled to do? Laundry!

I had to stop myself, sit down, and just focus on our conversation.  Only then could I really pay attention to the strain in my mother’s voice.  Only then could I read between the lines of what she was saying – to listen, rather than hear…to be in the moment and fully present.  To focus.

That is my OLW for 2015.



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Tara Smith View All

I teach Writing Workshop, Language Arts and Social Studies to sixth graders at a middle school in suburban New Jersey. This blog is my attempt to capture all the "stuff" that goes into my teaching life - the planning, the dreaming, the reading, the preparing, the hoping and (above all) the kids.
Please note that the content of this blog is my own. It does not reflect the opinions of my employer.

19 thoughts on “TARA’S ONE LITTLE WORD OF 2015 Leave a comment

  1. This was my word for 2014, and for the same reason–I felt that I needed to learn to just focus on one thing at a time, and do it well, whether it was the dishes or helping my daughter with her homework. Such a little word but it provides so much guidance. Happy 2015!


  2. Tara – first my best wishes and thoughts of healing to your mother. So hard when they are far from us. Second thank you – reading your post helped me find my OLW for this year. I to need focus and have used this word but for me it is really about listening this year. You end with this –

    “Only then could I read between the lines of what she was saying – to listen, rather than hear…to be in the moment and fully present.”

    I have used that phrase with students over and over – we need to do more than just hear – we need to listen. Thanks – I will share more on my Tuesday post!

    I love writing communities – they help us in so many ways.


  3. Tara, I am taking these words of wisdom from your post: “Things come into focus, not by magic, but by concentrated effort – by paying attention to the moment or the task at hand, and honoring it.” This will help guide my thoughts and actions in 2015. Thank you for sharing your OLW.


  4. This is a powerful word and WHILE I can understand your choice, I suspect that you have long been focused. The real purpose of your word is to channel your focus to the present and this is a challenge for many of us. The phone bleeps and we check it ….even if what we are doing is absorbing. I love your choice.


  5. I love the magic in that Polaroid metaphor. I’m among those who grew up with accounts of darkrooms and what happens there, and the metaphor of setting a needle on a record often comes to mind as I want to focus in.

    The last half of this brought tears to my eyes, with your honesty and triumph. Yes, pause let’s us read between them mind, but focus and dwelling add another layer. What a beautiful path you’re on.


  6. It sounds like you have chosen a perfect word for this year, Tara. I live that “split screen life” way too often! And I love the metaphor of the Polaroid– so, so true! I remember the wonder of those cameras too! Here’s to a year where you can really focus and be present!

    Looking forward to meeting you in person in a few weeks! I’m hoping you and Linda and I will get to share a dinner or something!


  7. I love how you crafted this post, Tara. Your memories of watching Polaroids come into view is such an apt metaphor for one meaning of focus. But your shift to the other meaning of focus, devoting our attention to just one thing, really underscores why this word is so important in our hectic lives! I hope your mother is better, and look forward to reading about what your focus leads you.


  8. I’m sorry for the worry about your mother, and know it’s hard to be far away, yet lives do go on, and permission to say you still had to do the laundry is okay, too. It’s a strange web we weave to try to do all that we need, or want or think we wish. Your word is part of that “pause”, and when I think about what you wrote, I see that it’s the first step, before “focus”, exactly.


  9. Tara,
    With a similar “focus”, I love how you have literally also included “align, calibrate, and connect.” Those individual nuances will keep our #OLW15 conversations “focused” and productive!

    LOVE the backstory . . . so important!


  10. The idea of going from pause to focus is intriguing- one sort of leads to the next. Focusing is so hard in our world- I agree with your words about feeling pulled in may directions. In fact, as that has become a way of life, it feels as if my attention span has shrunk. Do you feel that? I hope your mom is okay. That is hard- to be so far away from her and hear strain in her voice.


  11. Tara, I like the way you described how your 2014 OLW led in to your OLW for 2015. I find that seems to be the way my words often work – they build off of each other. I also loved the significance of the Polaroid at the start.


  12. It does take effort to quiet the “must dos” nagging for our time and focus on the present, but it is worth it to give our attention fully to those who are important to us. This is a great choice for OLW. I wish you focus in the coming year.


  13. I love the image of the split screen…..I will use that image and reread your post to help me be present in the moment and focus. Yesterday, on a blessed snow day, I stayed home. I called my dad, played with my granddaughter, cleaned and prepared food, sat on the couch and read with the expectation of being interrupted. My husband sat and chatted for a bit, then my 21 year old daughter. My 24 year old daughter sprawled out on the couch beside me to chat in between yoga and work. I remembered visiting my grandma, who always had good food, was always sitting in her favorite chair with a book and a crossword puzzle, and always had time to talk and listen. She was my safe haven. I want to be the safe haven for my family and that requires focus. Thank you for your thoughtful post!


  14. What a great word. Holly chose Focus, too, and many of us wrote our Spiritual Thursday posts about focus. Like my word, reach, focus can be extended outward as in your conversation with your mother. (Prayers for her included. How hard to be so far away.) As much as I want to focus on my own work, I feel compelled as well to focus on just being present, in the moment.


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