Saturday, August 9, 2014

Teacher, Keep Faith

Summer's sunny activities are slowing bit by bit, and teachers are streaming back into classrooms that smell of floor wax or fresh paint or just that indescribable, unique scent in your own individual building.  The excitement of decorating, organizing, and preparing is easy to coast on for a while.   Then you have to remind yourself that, as the Peace Corps used to say, you're going back to the toughest job you'll ever love.  It's daunting---and a career inundated with chaos at this particular moment in history.  You might be intimidated, especially if it's your first year as a teacher or your first in a new school.  It doesn't have to be scary; you only have to keep your focus. 

You will see the best and worst of human nature played out before you every day.  The beautiful and terrible will visit you often, sometimes in the very same event.  After a while, it could become easy to take these miracles for granted; try not to, for appreciation of miracles is essential to receiving them.  Perhaps more than anyone, teachers are blessed with an abundance of them.

Anyone can be afraid, but you are bold.  Learn to look in the face of anger, pain, frustration, fear, and horror without flinching.  When you do, your students will trust you, and you can help heal those things within your power.  Do not grieve for those which you cannot heal; there is only one perfect power, and you aren't it.

Hold fast to the motive that brought you to teaching in the first place.  No matter how much you change or how much you adapt your work, that motive will continue to inspire you if you allow it to remain pure.  Tune out nay-sayers, burnouts, short-timers, cynics, and the endless hoard of reformists who have neither the knowledge, skill, nor ambition that you do.  Listen instead to those who encourage and uplift you and your profession---even when you must do the encouraging and uplifting yourself.

Wear your sense of humor like a protective skin.  This will enable you to laugh at yourself when the lesson you planned so carefully fails utterly, and also when you get a Christmas card that says, "I love your class.  I really love it when you get mad and your face turns red."  Humor will get you through rowdy classes, long meetings, short weekends, and boring anythings.

Learn the art of humility.  Approach everyone with the attitude that you each have something to share, something to learn, and something to teach.  Be humble enough to ask the cosmos, "Please let me get this just right.  If not that, at least let me do more good than harm."  Don't be too proud to ask for help, nor too afraid to follow your own vision. 

Keep your mind and your heart open.  They are elastic and will accept as much as you choose to fill them with.  When a student breaks your heart (and they will, though usually not on purpose), realize that theirs was broken first, and remind them that there's more room in a heart once it's shattered and mended.  To be broken is a sign of life and humanity, not of weakness. 

Make your students feel special by truly believing they are, and they will return the favor and forgive you almost anything.  This includes standing your ground and doing what you feel is best for them, even if they don't agree, and also admitting when you are wrong and apologizing if necessary.  Believe that they are worthy of your best self, every day, every hour.

Maintain your sense of self.  If you don't know who you are out of the classroom, it isn't likely you'll know who you are in the classroom, which leads to chaos for everyone.  Bring your personality to work, but don't make work your personality.  You were drawn to this profession because you are outgoing, intelligent, curious, creative, and giving.  Plugging those qualities into other outlets away from school will bring even more energy to your classroom.

Think of yourself not just as a teacher, but as a lover: of knowledge, of ideas, of expression and connection to others.  As you would downplay the annoying habits of your beloved, downplay the bothersome details of our work by focusing on the benefits: young minds and spirits waiting for the intellectual spark you strike, young hearts that need hope, young lives craving direction.  As with many great loves, the bad parts fade with time, while the good parts grow exponentially.

Keep your arms wide open, and all the world will come to you. 

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Write Your Own Life

We all construct the narratives of our lives, often at the very moment we are living them out.  "She stepped out of her car into the balmy night air, tossing a look over her shoulder to make sure no one was coming up behind her.  The wind lifted her hair as she took long, deliberate strides to the side door of the building."  Something like that---much more mundane, usually.  Perhaps, if you're like me, you tend to glamorize whatever you're doing, much the same way my three-year-old self used to stand on the steps of the Methodist church across the street from our house and imagine myself in a flouncy, Loretta-Lynn style stage dress while I belted out country songs for the whole street.

It's interesting to see how those narratives play out when more than one person is involved. The two-sides-to-every-story cliche is so true that it's undeniable.  Every teacher has seen a vast number of examples.  "Buddy has a hard time focusing due to ADHD."  (Buddy is either a comatose lump of teenager or a whirling dervish.)  "She's just so social that schoolwork is a low priority."  (She has not turned in an assignment in the last six weeks.)  "Axl is brilliant."  (Axl is a smart-ass.)  "We don't let the kids have sugar."  (The kids chug down two Mountain Dews, a Snickers, and a packet of powdered-sugar doughnuts at lunch just before my class every single day.)  "Suzy loves to read."  (Suzy gets very angry if she is given a book that is NOT of her choosing to read for class.)   And so on.  It's enlightening to see the two sides, and often hilarity ensues after the parental moment has passed and we don't have to keep a straight face.  I've learned a world about two-sides differences this way.   Hopefully, most of us try to operate in a little more realistic view of ourselves.

That's what I want to share with you in this blog, the last of the rigorous schedule of weekly blogs that I've posted for two years now.  This blog makes 108---which doesn't actually compute from 52 weeks in a year, but at least I'm ahead in number and not behind.  Anyway, the point is that I've learned so much about self-searching, honesty, and presenting myself in as true a light as I can draw.  It's difficult, but not impossible, to bring myself to heel and really see who I am.  Sometimes, I don't like it much; I'm vain but lazy in my logic and closed off to new ideas at times.  Occasionally, a flash of inspiration strikes me and I'm pleased with what I'm able to capture.  Rarely was it ever boring to try to put my thoughts into words, knowing that whether one person or a hundred read it, I would be accountable for what I sent out into the blogosphere.  Always, always, I was surprised by part or even all of what I learned about myself.

No power on earth would have kept me on this weekly schedule for two years if I hadn't known that someone would notice if I slipped up and didn't post.   I can't stand the thought of not following through, even if no one is watching.  So if you were out there reading, especially if you were commenting, thank you for keeping me on the path.  Thank you for reading even if you didn't comment; just knowing that I had a few people reading every week, and others that read once in a while, kept my motivation rolling.

This isn't the end of the blog.  For one thing, I will still be posting from time to time when the mood and the muse strike.  But more importantly, I hope you'll be inspired to write your own life, to learn about yourself for yourself or to share with your children or to sharpen your craft and your abilities.  Even if you won't post it for the world to see, you could make it into a wonderful project for the future.

Most English teachers use the five steps in the writing process to teach composition:  pre-writing, drafting, revising, editing, and publishing.  That last step is a little misleading; it doesn't have to mean publishing for pay.  It can be sharing with another person, keeping a "best" portfolio, preparing a booklet of best writing, submitting to the school newspaper, reading aloud....or posting on a blog (among others).  I had not practiced the craft of writing regularly for more than 25 years, since I finished my Master's degree.  Thanks to this blog, I've practiced all five of those steps 108 times.  More importantly, I have the valuable insights that allowed me to see into my nature that I didn't have before I began writing

You should see yourself!

I'll be writing to you here sometime down the line and posting the links on Facebook.  In the meantime....write on!


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Never, Ever

It's always seemed smart for me to play my emotional cards very close to the vest.  I don't like to have a lot of people knowing what's going on in my head, and certainly not in my heart.  It's earned me a reputation as a lot of things:  cold-hearted, mean, ugly, or lesbian.  The truth was that I was always just as man-crazy as any other girl, but it was so painfully clear to me from my earliest memories that I was not meant for a great love that I just played it off as unimportant to me.  It was the picture of self-preservation. 


I know a number of single people---particularly single women who mourn the apparent fact that there are no good men left in the world.  They are all married, or spoiled rotten by an overabundance of available women, or they are gay, or they have so much baggage they need a porter to follow them around every minute.  I've mulled this over with girlfriends for....about 30 years now.  Yes, I've dated, but largely they were missing something required to meet the "good" requirement; "perfect" was completely out of the question.   And I was stupid enough to look for one when I didn't really believe I could HAVE a good one.  In fact, I couldn't even tell you what I was looking for.  When I was asked from time to time, I could never, ever even picture the perfect man for me to save my very life.


Then, without warning, that pattern was broken by what I can only call divine design.  I found not just a good man, but a great one, and as I was often told would happen, I found him right in my very own church---although we had been sitting on opposite sides for a number of years. 


His name is Galen, and he is the best of men:  kind, thoughtful, funny, and real.  You know how you can always tell the true character of a person by how they treat the wait staff in a restaurant?  He is the perfect example.  In fact, one of his pet peeves is the public treating waiters and waitresses poorly.  No one ever seems to set him off or make him impatient.  The worst he might say is that the person might be distracted or just having a bad day.  He smiles, thanks them, tips them, and is considerate of clearing out so they can seat more people, making more tips in the process.  He's also one of those people (unlike me) who are born huggers, usually from the first time he meets people.  Some use that as a trick to disarm others and win their trust too easily, but he is 100% genuine. 


G is a gentleman in a way that is almost old-fashioned now but so very charming.  I never have to open my door when we take his car, and that is literally a first for me.  In the past I always thought it was kind of odd when I saw other men do that, but I understand it and appreciate it wholly now.  Before it seemed to say, "Oh, let me get that for you, you poor thing," but now it feels like, "Let me show you that you matter to me."  I LOVE that.  He sent me flowers after our first date, one of the hallmarks of a gentleman in my mind.  But he has sent them on other occasions too, including once when I'd had a very difficult week this spring. 


One of the things I love best about Galen is that though he appears quiet and very soft-spoken, he has a quick wit and a gift for comebacks.  He makes me laugh with his mock-grandiose comments; the first one I remember followed a statement I made that complimented his complexion and how he could wear the color he had on better than anyone I knew.  He replied, "Oh, you know, I look good in any color, really----and I'm humble, too."  It caught me off guard, so I stay on the lookout now for any openings I give him for smart-aleck remarks, but he still pulls them off. 


There is no way I could underscore Galen's spiritual similarities to mine enough.  I've always struggled with figuring out how to make a humble spirituality make sense to others---and he is exactly the same.  We don't believe in passing judgment on others for their beliefs, we don't believe that one cookie cutter fits the whole world, and we both DO consider ourselves Christians who should primarily be concerned with our individual relationships with God, not anyone else's.  Nothing in my relationships has ever come close to that.  Believe me, it's not lost on me what a blessing this is.


The things about G that I admire the most are the things that few people are usually aware of.  He used to be a lay chaplain, and he still serves those he ministered to by seeing them, having lunch with them, or speaking with them on a fairly regular basis.  He's modern enough to think that women shouldn't be forced by society or societal pressure to take their husband's last names, but he's still traditional enough to enjoy being a gentleman.  He works seven days a week most weeks, a work ethic you know I appreciate if you know my family at all---but he can relax and enjoy his time if he doesn't have to work.  He always seems to be singing; he may have more songs in his head than I do.   He loves kids and dogs (cats maybe not so much, but I can overlook that little flaw  :-)  ), and I do believe Allie has him wrapped around her finger.  She may be wrapped around his, too; it's very seldom that I see her anymore that she doesn't ask me first thing, "Where's you' boyfriend?  Where's Ga-en?"  What more ringing endorsement is there than that of the small children we love? 


Tuesday is Galen's birthday; this is my little paean to his character, his strength, his heart and mind that are so good and true.  We aren't perfect, but we're perfect for each other.  Happy birthday, honey, with all my love.  Here's to 51 more!



Saturday, June 21, 2014

Picture This

I used to be quite a prolific photographer.  OK, OK, what I am really saying is that I was pretty annoying with a camera.  I would take photos that really didn't come out of any need; I was just using film (and always getting double prints in case there was some gem hiding on each roll).  We traveled a lot, and I liked to take pics in those situations, and even won a first place ribbon at the state fair for a photo I took in Montana when I was only nine or ten.  But in social situations, especially in large groups, I would be the one taking a million pictures because I was so socially awkward, even with family.  I'm not sure when that died down, but it must have been a combination of things that led me to it:  loss of interest, the advent of new technology, smaller groups, very little travel, more self-confidence.  I just don't enjoy spending my time behind a camera as much anymore. 

Just a couple of weeks ago I returned from my first-ever cruise, which took us to Cozumel, Grand Cayman, and Jamaica.  I took a few photos at each spot, and some on the ship, but for the most part, I was just enjoying seeing everything.  Everywhere there was something to marvel at, whether it was the turquoise water, the coral, the shopping, the gigantic pool at the resort in Jamaica where we spent the day, or all the entertainment on the ship.  There were new people to meet and visit with at each meal, which would have irritated me at any other time or place but was just so upbeat every time---and why not?  Everyone was eating great food and sharing stories of their daily adventures to see stingrays or waterfalls or beaches.  I didn't feel the need to photograph the new people who we met for one meal and pretty much never saw again.  But I found myself just wanting to enjoy the experiences, too, and not to worry so much about recording every moment.

I really started considering this the last couple of days.  My two Callaway nieces, Emeri and Allie, just spent the last two nights at my house.  We hit the Pryor pool on Thursday (I foolishly thought I might still get my water aerobics class in, but it was too much fun just to play with the girls) and went to the water park here in Broken Arrow yesterday.  Last night, after we all had a good nap and the girls watched a movie, we went out for some Mexican food at El Tequila.  I got out my camera and took just a couple of pictures of them.  A nice woman at the next table asked if I wanted her to take a picture of all of us together, and I politely turned her down, since I had no makeup on, but it got me to thinking about the fact that I just don't record every moment on film (SD card) anymore.  Was I letting the girls down by not taking a picture with them that they can look back at in 30 years and say, "Oh, remember how Aunt Cathy used to take us to the pool?" 

I think I got my answer.  In my mind, I flashed on a picture of me as a toddler in Spring Creek with my Aunt Jayne and cousin Karen, who was a teenager at the time.  For many years, I didn't know this picture even existed, though I've seen it enough times now that I can picture it in my head, the looks on each of our faces.  But even without the picture, I remember the joy of being with them---they were a part of my father's rowdy, laughing family, and we spent many a day, especially at Christmas, at their cabin, the first on Saline Creek, and later behind Cavalier's place on Spring Creek.  I remember the sound of Aunt Jayne's voice, her funny faces, though she has been gone for several years now.  And, too, I remember my grandparents on both sides, their smiles, the shape of their hands, the scents of food or wood or soap in their homes, not because I have pictures in my possession but because I have memories in my head.  I have the creak of the floorboards, the pop of the fireplaces or gas heaters, the feel of my great-grandma's arms around me.  I have pictures I can see, yes, but I have more pictures in my heart than I could ever afford to print.

Someday, I hope my nieces and nephews, siblings and students, friends and family, will be able to say the same.  I hope Instagram keeps people connected now, but that there are infinitely more memories to be carried for a lifetime just a synapse away.  I'm going to keep on taking pictures when I think I need to, but mostly, I just want to live my memories first-hand.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Unstrung

I sometimes wonder about the way we choose the things that order our lives.   For many of us, it's work.  The hours of our employment dictate our waking, our sleeping, our family time, meal time, and fun time.  The job also defines what we are capable of financially:  homes, cars, vacations, and lifestyle in general.  It may even determine much about what we call our personality.  For example, a female teacher in a fairly conservative state such as Oklahoma will have to think twice about dressing in very short or tight-fitting clothing, no matter how good she may look in it or how much she might wish to show off her hard work at the gym.

I'm thinking about this because I'm now deep enough into summer to feel the freedom of my days, no alarm clock ruling my time for the most part, no early-to-bed to answer that pre-dawn call.  Without class to shape me, I can wear shorts every day, use virtually no make-up, and pin my hair back with little attention to a professional appearance.  While I love the few months' reprieve, I also have to admit that it doesn't make me the most accomplished person for those summer months.  But I'm puzzled as to what would be a happy medium in between.

There are those people who are focused through some different filter, who string their lives together in an orderly fashion that they find gratifying or beautiful.  The culture that I grew up in is shaped entirely by the seasons; you can only produce a crop in a growing season, and each crop by the weather that it requires.  This was not a lifestyle I could manage as a way of life, though I love it.  I remember how it made my heart hurt to see fields of stubble after a wheat crop was cut.  It was like the end of an achingly gorgeous song that you can only hear once a year.  One of the most difficult times of a ranch life is calving season, yet I loved to see the newborn babies stumbling around on their spindly legs grow into frolicking calves kicking up their heels as they raced about.  Agriculture is a gamble in the best of times; as a foundation for living, it was too much of a crap shoot for me.

I know more than a few people whose lives are founded on their political principles, and I wish I had their courage.  I stand by what I believe, but I also know that circumstances change, people change, and I won't commit myself fully to a life based on politics.  I try to take Emerson's advice, roughly paraphrased here:  Speak what you think today in hard words, and tomorrow speak what you think in hard words again, even if it contradicts everything you say today.  You will change your mind, because if you don't, you aren't growing.  If you're misunderstood as a result, don't worry.  Every great man that ever lived was misunderstood.  So politics as a basis for framing life doesn't seem workable for me, since I don't want to be pigeonholed.

Spiritual beliefs are the foundation for many, but I keep my own counsel on that.  I don't believe that I need to be throwing around my spiritual beliefs for everyone else to judge, nor do I need to judge theirs.  That relationship is simply between me and God.

What is left?  Family---yes, certainly, although it's always in a state of flux.  Children keep parents busy for the first 18 years, and then everyone has to sort out their structure to fit a new dynamic.  Fashion?  From Smartphones to Hummers to leather boots, we all try to make our statements about who we are by the accoutrements of life, but as a basis for living, it's pretty hollow.  Social class?  No, no, no---some of the finest human beings I've ever known would be uncomfortable in four-star restaurants, and that is in no way a reflection of their character.

It seems I've decided that these few months when work doesn't dictate my schedule or my life are the ones I have the most respect for.  I don't accomplish as much, perhaps, but I like who I am, and most importantly, I can sleep the sleep of a clear conscience....even without my days being strung precisely together like a necklace of perfect pearls.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

The Literary Adventurer Goes on Holiday

Dearest Readers,
  You don’t know me, but we share affection or love or trust or acquaintance with one Cathy Welker. As she is off enjoying ocean breezes and following her bliss, (join me in a great sigh of joy and appreciation of her fella!) I am here to serve as a sad substitute. I was a student of Cathy’s in the late nineties and I can assure you with a sober face that she saved my life in more than one way.
  Dramatic? Yes. I was a drama kid. Sue me.
  All hyperbole aside, I spent this week in anticipatory throes of angst trying to decide what to blog about. I tossed around a few ideas: Mothers – how I have many (6!) and the role they play in the life of a woman. Children and education and how a super-liberal, big-mouthed mother raising two boys in Texas is quite an adventure. I even imagined just recycling from my own blog which you can find HERE if you’re interested after today.
  But then, yesterday, I had my 14 week appointment with my midwife to finally hear the heart of my third and last bean and behold…no heartbeat could be detected.
  I shared this news with my dearest loved ones through a combination of text and Facebook posting. And I was surprised at the number of responses I got from people recounting their own miscarriages. For the record: this is my second. My first was a few years after an abortion and I had some very clear feelings of being struck down by a less-than-merciful God.
  Upon reading these stories of pain and loss by so many of the women in my life for whom I have always carried a bit of awe, I began to realize that I am most certainly not alone in this world or even this particular experience. By which I mean – I have always viewed myself as an outsider who experiences the world in a collection of emotions and responses that no one else has ever felt in such a way. I live a hyperbolic existence. I have always lived in the margins of the page. I am a footnote or an appendix or a bit of fringe. I have never been the stuff found within the meat of the book. 
  In short, I have always been WEIRD. Other. Especially these days in Texas.
  So when I raced through these pages of text from women for whom I hold the highest esteem – these poised and perfect ladies. These perfect paragons of femininity and grace. When I knew that they too had felt the hole punch open in their heart and abdomen where once potential had lived…I was so grateful…
  And then I got pretty pissed.
  Because WHY AREN’T WE TALKING TO EACH OTHER?!? Why aren’t we having more conversations about what matters. Sharing war wounds and battle stories? Why aren’t we younger women seeking out mentors? Why aren’t the older women sitting us whippersnappers down and FORCING us to listen to what you have to say? Because we need it. Oh my GOD do we need you. We need to know you felt what we feel. We need to know you loved the way we love and lost the way we lose and that even if the hair and the skin showing and the music is different: you were HERE. You lived the life we are living.
  Because we will listen. Or at least I will. I swear it.
  We need you, ladies who are not our mothers and grandmothers. We need you to help us not feel like Facebook and Tumblr and Instagram are our only lifelines in this world. Because they are good ones, they truly are. They’ve kept me and Cathy friends these many years past my time as her pupil. They allow me to read her words of wisdom each week and remember how lucky I am to have six mothers.
  And younger women – the responsibility does not fall just to the wiser of women. This responsibility also lands squarely on our shoulders as well. We must seek out women who possess the best of what we long to have. We must seek out advice and companionship and affection and even discipline. We cannot grow if we contain ourselves inside vessels of friendship that offer no space for change and no diversity of thought.
  Your social media page is controlled by an algorithm that streamlines your people, products, politics, and thoughts based on WHAT YOU ALREADY KNOW. Do you really want to live your life exactly as you are now? I don’t. I want to push and be pushed. Teach and be taught. Love and be loved.

  A hand reached across a linen tablecloth, a clasp of fingers five on top of five…an embrace of new Chanel and old mingling together…a ten minute tea on the front porch that turns into an evening…these things…these are the things that will save us. 

  Thanks for your attention, dear reader, Cathy will return soon with adventures and tales and (I hope) a bit of euphoria from so many days in the surf.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Two Sweet Words

What are the two sweetest words in the English language?  I vote for "Friday payday" every month when that day rolls around.  The promise of getting my monthly allowance is so exciting....until I sit down and parcel it all out to my bills.  That kind of wrecks the wonderful feeling.  Then there is another standby:  "half price."  Ah, yes, there's the money factor again.  The idea that I could get two of whatever for the price of one is intriguing.  Too bad it's almost always something I will never, ever need.  Sometimes, I buy it anyway.

But right now, the two sweetest words for me are "summer vacation."  It is so for every student and teacher in the state, as well.  Especially now, when we're just on the cusp of all those days stretching out before us, it's so happy to contemplate.   I do sometimes wonder what everyone else's mind goes to for summer vacation. 

Is it staying up all night reading books or watching movies, or is that just me?

Is it running barefoot through the grass until exhaustion overtakes you, as it is for so many little ones?

Is it finding the coldest creek or the deepest lake and spending the whole day on it or in it, getting lobster-red and loud with your friends?

Is it hitting the road with mountains before you and relentless heat behind you, or exciting sights in unfamiliar cities, or setting up camp on a beach for a week and never thinking of any worries at all?

Is it taking an extra job to ease the money worries and frustrations of the school year?

Is it family activities and excursions on weekends, zoos and parks and movies, testing everyone's nerves but bonding over the activities?

Is it a continuation of daily life, only with a higher electric bill for the air conditioning?

Is it a respite in the yearly grind of 60-hour work weeks, an oasis in the desert of exhaustion?

"Summer Vacation" will always mean a little of each of these for me.  They are only different stages in the vacationing process.  That doesn't mean they don't overlap or repeat.  For example, I would happily run barefoot in the yard (especially if there were a sprinkler involved) any summer day, if I didn't live under the threat of losing a foot.  I don't do as many family excursions as I used to, but I still have my nieces a couple of days over the summer to run around and have fun with.  The last vacation trip I took was in 1995, for a few days in Nashville, but tomorrow I head out for a cruise that has me so excited that I don't know if I'll sleep tonight at all! 

Whenever there's talk of year-round school and that summer breaks are really outdated, I panic just a little.  I'm not ready to give up any of those definitions of summer vacation; it's not just that it's so enjoyable, but that it's so necessary.  Rewind, recharge, restore---those are the real definitions of my two sweetest words for today:  Summer Vacation!