Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle · Writing, editing, editorial, philosophy

Why write? Why not write?

Having been in the writing business for almost ten years (although I’ve been writing for quite a bit longer than that, on a non-business basis), I’ve learned many things. My hope is to impart them to my readers, both to share wisdom and to prevent you from making the mistakes that I did.

When you have something to say, say it. Sharing information is cathartic and if you find someone or some entity that wants to read it, so much the better. One of the lessons that I’ve learned through a significant amount of experience is that you are not the same as the work that you create. In other words, people will like you and not your work. Or more importantly, it’s critical to understand that a lack of positive response to what you’ve created in no way diminishes you. It’s simply the taste fairy thing.

Now that I recognize the value of this medium, I’ll be adding comments much more often. If you want to see more of me and what I’ve done so far, my website is http://www.csscribe.com. Looking forward to hearing from you – Shalom.

 

 

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Learning

For quite some time, I have wondered if I’m marooned on an intellectual desert island. This consists of thinking old thoughts, rehashing endless memories and wondering about incomplete projects. Regrettably, I hold myself responsible for all of these.

Happily, I’ve identified a method to avoid this outcast status. It’s quite a simple and profoundly positive response. All I have to do is learn at least one useful fact per day. Doing so is invigorating and wonderfully satisfying.

Here’s a sample. For numerous personal reasons, I’ve dedicated a substantial amount of the last five years to studying the Holocaust. But it was not until several days ago that I discovered the presence of substantial Nazism in South America prior to World War II. As it turns out, the US had significant and considerable concerns about the possibility of Nazi attacks on our soil or possessions.

It’s positive that this never materialized but I am enriched at the knowledge. Now I need to assign the responsibility to myself of learning something else that’s new with each day.

A busy life may make this quite a task. But I’m convinced that the more I work on improving my brain, the easier and more enjoyable the effort will become. The same source of this South America information has taught me a little about cryptology. Maybe I’ll pursue that. Or I can research hydroponics or the life of Emily Dickinson or how to raise llamas.

The subject matter is less important than the activity or dedication. There is no potential for a downside for this commitment. In fact, I may have considerable influence on those whom I impact.

At the very least, I feel that I am learning, growing, improving and becoming a better resource to those seeking information and to myself. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Honesty

One of the most rewarding aspects of educating young people is that they have no filters and say exactly what is on their minds. Adults can learn something powerful from this gift, especially because we generally allow politics, prejudices or preconceptions to block our free speech.

Some of us appear to be more proficient at stating what we believe. Recently, a friend remarked, “One of the things I know about you is that if I ask your opinion on a subject, I’ll get exactly how you feel.” This is a major compliment to me. If I have a reputation of being forthcoming and sincere, I’m happy.

Adults demonstrate the same behavior as kids when you ask a question and their answers are dishonest or incomplete. They will start blinking or look elsewhere, fidget with their hands or stammer. Of course, these mannerisms don’t always indicating lying. Some have discomfort with voicing opinions at any time, on any subject. And some want time to reflect or construct an answer, regardless of the question.

While I’m not recommending brutal honesty, I’m suggesting that tact can make sincerity work without pain. Here’s an example:

Ask someone to tell you how they feel about your new hairstyle. If the response is “Oh, it’s just fine,” you can wonder if they are telling the truth. But if you get, “The style is really good. You may want to think about making the sides a bit shorter,” I know that they have truly spent some time and care on the answer. In the first case, analysis wasn’t there. In fact, if someone says, “I hate your hair – it’s too short,” I would value that more than a prefabricated and potentially insincere statement.

Why do we have so much trouble articulating how we really feel? It may be a fear of consequences. It may be a deep-seated conviction that no-one really cares about our opinions. Or maybe we begin telling small lies and eventually lose the distinction between truth and fiction.

At no time do I use honesty as an excuse to hurt others. My answer is either tactful or phrased as something constructive. “Have I been good today?” asks a difficult student. “I can see that you’re working hard on being the best student. Please keep doing what you’re doing.”

My hope is that we can learn more honesty than deception as a society. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Less is better

Sometimes I wonder if it’s possible to over-teach. Kids are usually flexible and creative, and I often consider that we do them a disservice by structuring every minute.

This is probably the most representative example that I can cite. A young boy timidly approached to advise that his stomach hurt. Stomach distress is the most common ailment I encounter in elementary level kids.

He didn’t display any symptoms, but I asked if he wanted to go to the nurse. Shaking his head, he demonstrated the sad face. My response was, “Go and rest for a while. Let me know what I can do to help.”

That was all the educating I needed to do. He was evidently satisfied with my solution and expressed nothing else.

Sometimes I declare “free time” rather than math or science or literacy. Inevitably, one or two of the class will do something on a laptop or iPad that is prohibited. But I always convey without over-emphasis that I trust them to do the right stuff even though I won’t be checking.

It causes me to wonder if we overdo other tasks. Are we guilty of offering too much advice to our grown kids? It’s generally understood that too much fertilizer will kill our lawns. And so, it follows, when we distribute too much in the way of advice or suggestions, we take the chance of sabotaging the faith of others in themselves.

And maybe we pack too much for trips, buy too much for our refrigerators and pantries and worry too much that every ache and pain is a sign of cancer. Maybe when we can’t remember a song title, composer or performer, it’s not a sign of early onset dementia.

For my part, I’m eternally working on less versus more. Isn’t less speed on the road better than too much? Aren’t many trivial gifts less meaningful than one large and thoughtful one? Aren’t sales people who push too much less effective than those who don’t push at all?

Fewer teaching words are generally more powerful than many. To be sure, telling anyone, “I’m sorry you’re having a difficult day” always feels better than, “You’re difficult and disruptive.” Sometimes, it’s challenging to achieve but the outcomes are always preferable. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle · Writing, editing, editorial, philosophy

Doing my job

Your behavior is disgusting and embarrassing. You should not be acting this way. And don’t bother telling me that you’re sorry. Show me.

These words emanated from the teacher in the classroom adjacent to mine. She then read a litany of mistakes and promised detention for the whole class, whether or not they were guilty of making noise or being inappropriate.

The noise wasn’t so bad. According to one student, she’s usually one of the nicest teachers in the school. But she never acknowledged me, my jurisdiction or my need for assistance.

Aren’t we role models in the down times as well as the up times? Why would we be surprised at animosity and belligerence on the playground when we dispense it to our kids?

Yes, there are times that merit discipline and a stern demeanor. But these are functioning, autonomous human beings who are worthy of respect, also during their worst moments.

Years of classroom management have taught that nothing happens while I’m presiding from the front desk. It’s only when I am walking through the student population that I am successful. It also involves my having the right response to being corrected for using the word “accountability.” The student advised that we may have used the word, “in your day,” but it’s not used now. She now knows what accountability means.

To be sure, patience is the most valuable asset in any classroom. In sixth grade, the problem is noise. In kindergarten, it’s trips to the bathroom (to goof off) and tattle tales. And in all grades between them, it’s cell phones, aggressiveness, issues at home and one hundred other causes.

My job is to guide, encourage, suggest, persuade, soothe and anything else that improves my students. None of those include character assassination or insult.

It seems to me that we will all receive enough negativity in our later lives without hearing it in elementary school. My preference is to discuss good choices and advantages of feeling positive about the way we interact with others.

Losing it is not an acceptable option for educators. Because one teacher doing so made my student cry, I hope that she rethinks her strategy or that I don’t encounter her again. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Don’t stop the music

Music has no practical or immediate measurable value to inner city elementary grade kids. It won’t feed hungry stomachs and it won’t get Mom or Dad out of jail.

But I’ve realized that learning about Mozart is as crucial as math. Remembering the names of operas is as vital and formidable an accomplishment as learning verb conjugation.

You may feel confident that words such as quartet, Vienna and child prodigy were exceedingly difficult to master. When kids hear the word “Requiem” ten or twenty or thirty years from now, it may or may not sound familiar.

Ultimately, retention is not the issue. We must consistently and often remind our kids that there are pursuits out there than don’t translate to practicality or usefulness.

As I watched students learn that Mozart played violin and organ at age four, I saw respect and admiration in their eyes. When I asked them to name a reed instrument, one student was pleased to offer clarinet. Others were fascinated to know that saxophones also qualified.

Most likely, they won’t remember what instruments constitute a string quartet. Likewise, they probably won’t recollect that Mozart wrote string quartet pieces for Haydn. But they know where to find that information when it becomes important and they want it.

If we teach beat, tempo, dynamics and music composition to enough students, one may become a musician. One may seek further documentation. And one may go home and say, “Guess what, Mom! I found out a bunch of stuff about Mozart today.”

Any of those consequences are causes for declaring victory. But if none of those happen and we let kids know that music is worth the time to understand it, we have enriched them. We have widened their powers of observation and liberated them from fixation on matters of survival.

Yes, the pronunciation of words like Figaro and Austria could have been amusing. Thankfully, I also had the opportunity to share Bach, Brahms and Beethoven with them. Please don’t deprive our children of the gifts of fine art. Whatever it takes, we must find the budget to create lovers of symphony. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle · Writing, editing, editorial, philosophy

Improvisation

What I love most about being an educator is that every day is a performance of improvisational theatre. Yes, there are schedules and lesson plans. But everything else is spontaneous.

In order for this to make sense, hand white boards to a group of first graders. The independent and creative ones (usually girls) will draw pictures of girls, often in exotic locations.

The boys are generally competitive, jumping directly into tic-tac-toe. It never matters who wins. What matters is finishing the game, erasing the boards and getting to the next round.

Frequently, we have the OCD type who will scurry around the room, putting things in order and scolding those who create messes. What’s magical is that usually, no-one directs this lead actress, The Cleaner. She is self-appointed and resolute in her duties.

Another role is the foil character. He bounces when he should be still, talks when he should be silent and touches those who don’t want to be touched. This is always the lead actor.

And we have the director who is in charge of everything. He or she watches the clock, rebukes offenders and always does what should be done, according to the teacher’s plans.

One of the scenes that I love most has magnetism as its center. Give a child a book, make myself available (usually that consists of simply being there and responsive) and kids are magnetically attracted.

Where do spiders live? What’s a safari? Have you ever been to Disneyland? Did you know that Magic Mountain is haunted? Have you seen Star Wars?

It’s obvious that the kids are unrestricted, uninhibited and unconditional. What’s so beautiful about this form of improv is that the dialogue is painlessly delivered and eternally changing. Put all of them together and theatre erupts. My job is merely to maintain safety, provide positive reinforcement and occasionally offer information. Maybe I am the producer. Maybe I am the choreographer. Undoubtedly, I am the editor. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle · Writing, editing, editorial, philosophy

Politics

Every time that I think I’ve seen all there is to see in a classroom, kids will inevitably surprise me. Most of the time it’s amusing, and only rarely do they display meanness or evil streaks.

Here’s a good example. One of my best, least disruptive students reported that her mechanical pencil wasn’t working. In spite of the fact that a nearby bucket contained at least thirty number two pencils, she showed extreme distress. In order to alleviate her anxiety, I produced a mechanical pencil from my bag.

Magically, ten kids rushed my desk to report that their pencils had just broken. When asked if they were reporting actual events, most smiled sheepishly and returned to their seats. Of course, I left the school with substantially fewer pencils than I had when I entered.

A similar phenomenon occurs with bandaids. When one of my students displays an injury (usually visible only with a magnifying glass), I produce a Minion bandaid and apply it to the wound. Suddenly a rash of wounds appear, all of which require a Minion.

Most of my schools have created reward dollars for students displaying model behavior and good citizenship. When I display these bucks, the room automatically becomes quiet in anticipation of receiving them. And so, I promised that each would receive a buck prior to going to another classroom. Having run out of time, I neglected to distribute the dollars.

We weren’t back in class more than eight seconds before one courageous girl approached me. She timidly reminded me that I had promised the currency but hadn’t fulfilled my pledge.

As I traveled from table to table to keep my word, each of my students had produced an envelope in which they would place their treasures. It was not until halfway through the class that I received my first thank you. When I pointed out this reality, a chorus of thank yous ensued. My guess is that they figured a thank you was good insurance for receiving additional money.

And then there is the territory seeker. One girl spilled her thermos early in the day. Logic and good sense would suggest that it would be quickly cleaned. But the solitary boy at this table chose an entirely different (clever) approach.

He came to me with Chromebook in hand because water is bad for computers. His request was to relocate to another table where two other boys were sitting, and I allowed the move.

Two hours later, the table was still wet. The boy needed to complete a math packet and repeated the relocation request. At last I saw the girl responsible for the spill take the initiative to clean her mess.

By the end of the day, I am designated the best substitute they ever had. Sometimes that statement is followed by, “When do we get candy?” More often, it is simply the silent, sustained hug. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle · Writing, editing, editorial, philosophy

Empathy

There is no school curriculum, university course of study or life lesson strategy called “Empathy.” It isn’t taught and to my knowledge, there is no feel-good, group dynamic or happiness seminar where you can learn it.

The fact that empathy is observed-only behavior is nowhere more evident than in a classroom. It always touches me to see how accommodating and helpful students can be with special needs children. They are often gentle, assisting and patient.

On the other side, it always dismays and disappoints me to see students and teachers who are devoid of compassion. These are the kids who see someone fall on the playground and walk around him. It can also be a teacher who sees me struggling with a student, shakes her head, smiles to herself and walks away.

Many of my loyal writing clients report that I am fully conscious of their voices and consistently duplicate them. This is the highest compliment that I can be paid. Perhaps it is because I consider empathy an active process rather than a passive state.

Often I wonder how our world could be enhanced if we practiced more empathy and less revenge, anger or violence. Understand that this is a skill and lifestyle that requires patience and practice. Frequently, I silently count to ten on the road before I comment on someone’s disrespectful driving. Or I quietly approach a recalcitrant child who is having a tantrum before I send him for discipline or a time-out.

The prerequisite is intent. If empathy isn’t natural or automatic, consider the amount of good that you can deposit into the world. It’s free, painless, contagious and has the potential for chain reaction. The world will be glad that you did. Shalom.

Colorado · Travel · Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

A warm welcome

Good day! My name is…actually, that’s really not important. What truly matters is that I was hired by God to design the indescribably splendid location known as the Rocky Mountains.

Because the mountains have been here for many centuries, I’ve been on the payroll for quite a while. But this is a huge, tremendously important responsibility.

First there is the weather. My directions were to arrange a diverse assortment of clouds. Some are wispy and either caress the mountains or envelop them. Some simply provide the wide, eternally changing backdrop for the mountain vistas. Temperatures change rapidly, ranging from warm and sunny to freezing and blustery.

Landscape was the next concern, made more complicated because of the altitude and occasionally frigid temperatures, not to mention the horrific amounts of snow. We decided on the majestic evergreens (mainly pine) because they’re hearty and always look natural. For a change of pace, we threw in some aspen and a few other deciduous species. And of course, there are shrubs and in spring and summer, many spectacular flowers.

Finally, we had to consider inhabitants. Humans are welcome if they don’t deface or desecrate the environment. And they often bring horses, cattle, dogs, donkeys and goats, many of which are amusing to watch.

The natural residents are moose, elk, deer, coyote, mountain lion, fox and a huge aviary population. We’ve also provided many little creatures such as squirrels, beaver, chipmunks and others. A consensus is that we’ve done a remarkable design job, with some sights that are pleasing to anyone and everyone.

While it’s difficult to send us your feedback, our reward is generally your visits and compliments on the work we’ve accomplished. Please enjoy on whatever level you choose, remembering to leave the mountain world as pristine as you found it. Shalom.

Colorado · Travel · Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Invitation

It’s a small, local, no-name saloon and eatery. If you’re not a local or you haven’t eaten here before, you’ll never notice that it’s here.

But the uniqueness, charm and amenities make it a mountain stop that you’ll never forget. From the time you enter until you mosey on down the road, you’ll be glad that you discovered it.

The rumble of laughter and conversation suggests that the location population today is comprised mainly of locals. As people enter the building, the hostess/server greets many of them, expressing her pleasure at seeing them again. Altogether, there are approximately twenty tables, for a total occupancy of fewer than thirty.

The ladies room was probably as indicative of the rustic, unpretentious attitude as anything else. One stall was rendered out of order, with a hand-written note taped to the door. The other had a swinging door with no lock and the entire restroom appeared that it hadn’t been painted since Prohibition.

To complete the unapologetic ambiance, the beer selection was primarily Colorado brews, the menu was simple and “Turkey Reuben” was scrawled on the small whiteboard precariously perched on an easel in the corner. Thankfully, I continued my habit of selecting the special of the day and was thoroughly glad that I did.

If I’m very fortunate, my next visit to this part of the state will take me to this road, this restaurant and this turkey reuben. It was delectable and impeccably crafted. Undoubtedly, any reuben that I experience anywhere else will be decidedly inferior.

In retrospect, I must wonder how much of our restaurant enjoyment is impacted by the surroundings. Was the sandwich so good because the location was modest and uncontrived? Maybe the venue was fun in part because of the quality of the food. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter.

This is one more reason to love Colorado. In spite of the classic Rabbit Ears Pass whiteout at 9,426 feet that followed the meal, the majesty and grandeur of this state never cease to enchant and inspire me. Shalom.