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

Writing is good for the brain

Try to persuade a group of pre-lunch first graders that writing is good for them. How does that work?

We’re discussing our favorite holidays and the answers are fabulous. We like Halloween because of all the candy. We like the Fourth of July because of the fireworks. And we like Christmas because that’s when God was born and we get lots of presents.

In every case, it is surprisingly important to spell words correctly. This appears to be the most important part of the activity. Ultimately, it is the life lesson.

Most of us want to be heard and we understand that one condition for that is accuracy. Does form precede function or vice versa? Most likely, they are synonymous. If you are at all like me, you notice all of the errors in a book or essay. To some authors, it may not matter. But to me, flaws in my work are an embarrassment and a commentary on my attention to detail.

And so, it becomes easy to teach that writing is good for your brain. It’s a significant exercise and good practice for life. Speak your mind, clearly and precisely. It will prepare or support you for all of the life challenges ahead of you.

If accuracy doesn’t automatically happen for you, call on one of us who prioritize it. If it doesn’t matter, consider the possibility that you’re diluting or contaminating your message. No matter what the specifics may be, recording thoughts and feelings is a gift to others as well as to you. And it’s good for the brain. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Managing life

Today it occurred to me that managing a classroom is exactly like managing life. In many cases, life (and classroom) events happen without any notice or possibility for intervention. In others, it’s a question of fully understanding your circumstances and making decisions on how to proceed.

For example, imagine nineteen fourth graders bordering on glucose overdose due to Valentine’s Day. They begin as disenfranchised or confused because Mr. Regular Teacher is not in the room. That’s another way of saying that our normal schedule is disrupted.

At this point, I can attempt to duplicate their normal day. This is easily accomplished by virtue of the self-appointed assistants who regularly remind me of their routine.

In life, we keep doing what’s comfortable or familiar. Sometimes we disconnect and choose another direction or dimension. So it goes in the classroom. Yes, I know what you usually do at this hour but we’re doing something different today.

Some will accept and adjust to change, just as we learn to deal with illness, accident, loss or other events. Those who can’t will either overreact, withdraw to a corner or display their total distaste for anything new.

Because I have no idea how to manage those situations that are incapable of being  managed, I offer no specific strategies other than to think before acting. Rash and impromptu solutions rarely work.

Another strategy is to realize your limitations and use your strengths and experiences to handle crises. If it’s a classroom, I recognize that I will never be their regular teacher. But maybe my position is ultimately a better one.

Ultimately, the noise level becomes unimportant in its transience. Fear of consequences creates the accountability that I seek. And so it seems that I have created another method for managing life, by focusing on the winners and winning; the kind and kindness; the happy and happiness. It’s not surprising that in school or in life, emphasis on the positive generates positive outcomes. Shalom.

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Aging (dis)gracefully

How many of us grew up hearing “Act your age”? In my case, it was “Act your age, not your shoe size.” With the happy status that I now enjoy as an older person, I continue to wonder what that means.

My first question is, “What am I expected to do at my age?” This suggests that we all have age buzzers that go off on various birthdays.

For example:

At age 55, stop skiing and speed skating, ice or roller blading. Take a cooking class.

At age 60, learn how to crochet or knit. Discontinue yoga, Taekwondo and fencing.

At age 65, research Social Security benefits, visit retirement communities and begin making clothes and toys for grandchildren, real or imagined.

At age 70, discontinue all physical exercise other than walking or watering plants. Check your blood pressure every day.

By now you should be realizing that I am completely sarcastic. Recently, I saw an 89-year old Holocaust survivor and veteran who regularly runs marathons. And then there was the 90-something ballet teacher. Both of these senior citizens inspire and motivate me.

In other words, the warning to act your age is entirely meaningless and ridiculous. If acting my age disqualifies me from walking 5K races, so be it. If acting my age determines what I wear, I immediately want to ask, “Whose judgment is this and why do I care?”

We must all make the best of every minute we have available. Creating restrictions, timetables and criteria wastes those minutes and prevents us from enjoying life to the fullest. Dance to the music you love and assume that no-one is watching because they’re not. Shalom.

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The assignment was to identify all of the differences between frogs and toads. To a fourth-grade class, deciding how many constitutes enough is problematic. Within a class of nineteen, at least ten asked how many differences would complete the activity. The answer, of course, depends on more variables than the obvious.

To a biologist, a minimum of ten dissimilarities would be mandatory, especially for a proficient scientist. To a fourth grader, two or three are absolutely sufficient. To an educator, the answer is predictable: whatever it takes to answer the question completely and intelligently.

Perhaps I contaminated the answer possibilities by dangling the promise of free time after science. Those of us who are adults would spend as much time as necessary to submit a thorough and accurate answer.

Ponder this for a moment, if you will. How much would our world be enhanced if we collectively did more than the minimum? Of course, the answer depends largely on the situation.

It makes me wonder if the Constitution would have been better in any way if it was more than what was considered sufficient. The same occurs to me about T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men.

It could be that in some cases, the best and most appropriate answer is, “Trust your gut.” That wouldn’t work so well with fourth graders who walk the thin line between satisfying a requirement and excelling. Trust your gut is also true for exercise, eating and getting sufficient rest.

For the rest of life, exceeding the minimum is a tantalizing idea. If we had $10 billion (or an infinite amount of money) to use for cancer and Alzheimer’s research instead of $2 billion, would we be closer to cures? The same holds true for hours dedicated to community service. It’s only when we promise exactly what is needed to suffice that we can legitimately anticipate mediocrity. Shalom.

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Doing your job

Sometimes doing your job consists of counting to twenty. Other times, it’s a bit more complicated, writing code, building aircraft or debugging a complicated program.

Most of us, I believe, reached adulthood (and later) with the mandate to do our jobs. As I consider it further, however, doing exactly what we really should be doing may have nothing at all to do with occupations or schoolwork.

For instance, after quite a few unrelated positions, I realized that my training and my heart had nothing to do with my paycheck. That’s why, today my function (my job) is to get a kindergartner to do his math instead of sadly sucking three fingers while sitting crouched in a corner.

Many find saving dogs from puppy mills to be their calling. Others find fulfillment in providing food for the homeless in soup kitchens. And there are some who regularly donate blood or plasma simply for the sake of saving lives. Somehow, my guess is that animal and human rescues were usually nowhere in their education or work credentials.

It makes me sad to think about the many millions of people who put in their eight or ten hours per day without ever doing what moves and fulfills them. My mission is never to be urging others to abandon their incomes or careers. In addition to losing my credibility, I’m likely to be considered irresponsible or unrealistic. Thankfully, there are other options.

What do you love to do? What animal cause or human illness strikes a chord with you? If you recognize your melt-away zone, dedicate a day, a weekend or an hour to it. The not-for-profits are always needing committed volunteers. You may not have to journey further than your neighborhood. And if you are extremely timely and the world shines down upon you, one day your love and your job will be the same. Shalom.

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You can do it

Nothing happens to any man that he is not formed by nature to bear. Marcus Aurelius

Watching an otherwise uninspiring movie last evening, I was fortunately introduced to the wisdom of Marcus Aurelius. He was quoted throughout the movie and as I further investigated his work, I ran into this bit of truth that coincides precisely to my way of approaching the world.

My version of it has always read, “God never gives hard tasks to those who can’t handle them.” For those who object to that much of God’s intervention in our lives, perhaps this won’t work. But for the rest of us, it makes a great deal of sense.

The concept of “…formed by nature….” might be subject to interpretation. Can we believe that nature is God’s work? Or is it more a case of nature equating to life and experience, in which case the least religious of us can support the theory? In other words, if our experience doesn’t allow us to endure the problems of life, we are ignoring its teachings.

Hardships come in all sizes and flavors, ranging from losing a treasured plastic ring in kindergarten to tragic illness as adults. My opinion is that those who have learned from their past journeys are best equipped to survive the events of their futures. We can find a host of quotes to support that theory, including the business of forgetting the past can guarantee that we repeat it.

More than remembering the past, we must take full advantage of its lessons. In some cases, it will allow us to avert events that will cause harm or loss. In others, anticipating an outcome will provide the means and resources to handle it with the greatest competence and confidence.

Beneath all of that, we must feel certain of our abilities to face anything with resolve because we know that we can prevail. This strength can be derived from the outside but it’s most valuable if self-initiated and confirmed. Shalom.

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Get it done

His name was Paul and he was a kindergartener. Paul was taller than most of his classmates but wasn’t quite ready for the NBA. For most of the day, he was compliant, cooperative and generally easygoing. While he didn’t display anything approaching genius, that status is usually difficult to achieve in kindergarten.

Toward the end of the day, we split into four groups. One was assigned to computer work and all of its participants needed assistance with log-in.  Another worked with flash cards, connecting words with pictures. The third group’s members dedicated themselves to reading books in a configuration known as buddy reading.

Paul was part of the fourth group that was doing a word scavenger hunt. The teacher had placed word designations throughout the room, labeling the desk, whiteboard, bookcase, sink and other locations with small paper signs.

Watching him was one of the most gratifying and inspirational events I can remember. He dashed back and forth in the classroom, recording as many of the placards as he could spot. His eyes were bright, he punctuated each discovery with a fist bump and I was observing someone powerfully engaged in discovering the power of language.

The process was so competitive and personal that he never shared his findings with the other group members. At the end of the day, he proudly displayed all of the words that he had found, persuading himself that none of them were still unidentified.

It occurred to me that he had probably completed the same activity in the past and I had no way to determine whether or not the signs were in new locations. It made no difference to either of us. Celebrating his accomplishment, I pointed out that he had achieved something special because some of the signs were hard to find.

My hope is that he continues to nurture this passion for learning. When I see him again, I will congratulate him on his earlier victory and present a new challenge. His passion assures me that the future of our next generation is on the right track. Shalom.

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Already there

One of my long-standing and treasured clients has entrusted me with the privilege of writing bi-weekly blogs for her two websites. Initially, I was immediately able to identify topics for these very specific subjects.

While these are not the actual topics, imagine writing 250 to 300 words on something similar to eating habits of southwestern prairie dogs during winter. The blogs need to be entertaining, engaging and contemporary. While this isn’t the true topic, you can appreciate the challenges afforded by limited subject matter.

After the first several months, I began to wonder if my inspiration would evaporate or dissipate. This would be nothing short of catastrophic. My promise had been to produce new copy, faithfully and consistently.

At no time have I run short of ideas for my own blogs. While some content may be more popular than others, I have yet to lack in enlightenment from the diverse and dynamic world around me. If this is true, why did I worry about the websites?

You’ve probably guessed the answer – there was no reason to be concerned. Several nights ago, I completed the most recent blog entry and focused on the next. Magically and spontaneously, I recorded ten new blog themes.

And so it seems, I need to become more proficient at the advice I offer to others. Large and small, old and young, we must learn to rely on ourselves, spending the time on visualizing best possible outcomes rather than predicting frustration or failure.

We’ve all seen the clichés – do your best, all great journeys begin with a first step, etc. In this case, my lesson was that I already had what I needed. Waiting for truth (or wisdom or guidance) is a waste of time and effort. You have everything necessary to succeed. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

It’s up to you

In the event that we begin to believe that all children are fundamentally alike, we are making a huge mistake. Yes, they all eat, sleep, walk, talk and perform basic body functions. But that’s where the similarities end.

It’s fascinating to see what five and six-year olds do when they are blessed with free time. Some girls gravitate (naturally?) toward a kitchen area and begin preparing imaginary food. A few girls head toward construction projects, making it a point to do anything that the boys can do.

Several grabbed books and one undertook a complicated art project while the balance of them chose plastic shapes or components to build race cars. And at least three of twenty-six chose to isolate themselves to complete work, make presents for me or simply watch the world.

It’s impossible to determine whether or not the children were demonstrating tendencies that would carry through to adulthood with regard to interests. But the social interaction is vastly more informative than any specific activity.

We can divide them into three major categories: the bosses, the followers and the renegades. Each has his or her own traits, speech and attitudes.

The boss wants to direct everything and anything. He or she will tell others that they are missing a piece, wrecking a design or breaking the rules. They will also be the first to tell the teacher that someone is doing something that shouldn’t be done.

The second group will do whatever they are told. They clean up after others, they stack chairs and they are absolutely delighted not to make any decisions, have original thoughts or take chances.

Renegades are the most fun because they won’t take orders but don’t know why. They can be seen staring into space, working endlessly on activities that should take half the time spent and refuse to belong to a clique. Happily, these turn out to be the brightest, most successful and least emotional in the class.

If only we could fast forward and see which of these kids become Steve Jobs or Ruth Bader Ginsburg types of adults. Whatever they decide to do, my job is to encourage, confirm and embrace. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Anywhere you want to go

One sure way to get kids talking is to ask them about their family lives. On one occasion, I asked about the Christmas presents that they received. When one child indicated that he received a hover board, numerous others had suddenly acquired a hover board or two.

Yesterday I asked students what they did over the weekend. Please keep in mind that my school district is economically disadvantaged and replete with drugs, crime and homelessness. One student said that he played with his family, one went swimming in his outdoor pool with his sister (it’s January in Colorado) and another said that he went to Hawaii. Not to be outdone, the next student said that he spent the weekend in New York City.

For a group of kids who frequently arrive at school without breakfasts, school supplies or jackets, I could have easily and legitimately questioned the weekend trips. But in deference to discretion, I elected to say nothing.

Have I violated a rule or angered the great gods who venerate truth? No good, no learning and no values are served if I question students on trips that they can only imagine. There was no need to analyze further, especially because I always avoid embarrassing students. And maybe the greater good is served.

We’ll never know what this student believes that a weekend in Hawaii looks, feels or sounds like. At the least, we can hope that he will experience that magnificent location in his lifetime. But if he never succeeds at arriving there, a bit of fantasy is healthy for all of us, as is knowing what we want to achieve.

And in the endless desire to create and sustain a connection to my kids, maybe he’s enhanced because I accepted him at his word. He’s much too young to consider me naive or uninformed. Rather than interrogating, challenging or investigating, I appeared to believe him. Most likely, that was the greatest gift I could give. Shalom.