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.

 

 

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Defining cool

Are we still allowed to be cool without dating ourselves or appearing to be unfamiliar with current vernacular? One might reason that my ongoing classroom presence would disclose such information. But it’s absolutely nowhere in the curriculum.

Let’s get one thing immediately out of the way. My life is not spent in fervent pursuit of cool-dom. Of course, I don’t want to be an antique. And as one who relies on language for my craft, it is vital to know what language is current and what’s not.

Several of my sixth graders refer to me as “savage.” While the term initially shocked me, I’ve learned that it’s a compliment. The words “tight,” “dirty” and “gay” have also taken on new (unusual) meanings.

But nowhere have I discovered the destination of cool. Some of my kids play math games that are cool. Consulting a list of synonyms for cool, I find over 400 of them, ranging from “beastly” (one that I have heard) to constipated overweight old lady, to coolio, to far out (sixties, seventies?). Also, on the list are immense, nasty, shiz, straight and many others.

It’s amusing to me that before we had the power of the Internet, we relied on friends, classmates, movies, television and music for the prevailing slang. There’s only one problem. Because the list also contains gnarly and bitchin’, both of which are seriously archaic, how accurate are the rest of the entries? As I tell my kids, it’s a bad idea to copy someone else’s math paper. You never know if the answers are correct or not.

With all that preface, I think I’ll create my own version of cool. It may work out to be something totally far-fetched like spinach or philodendron. But I’ll see how many times I need to introduce the word before I hear it coming back to me. It may be fun.

The other acceptable action is to use the word cool as I always have. Cool is doing the right thing. Cool is keeping promises. Cool is educating. Whether the word is socially savage or not, who’s to say? Shalom.

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Success

Yesterday I began to think about success. It occurred to me to wonder if success is a term that has a generally accepted definition. One alternative is that we each have our own concept labeled success. It may or may not correspond to a generally held understanding. Another option is not to think of success at all or to assign that title or quality exclusively to others.

Who ponders the concept of succeeding as it applies to each of us? One possibility is that we measure success in dollars. The more money we make, the greater our success. Others of us may think of commercial success – we sell a million books, attract billions at the box office or perform hundreds of concerts per year.

If we don’t measure accomplishments, what’s left? The answer is the only explanation that makes sense, at least to me. Our successes are as individual as our genes, our upbringing and our highly specific tastes in everything. What that means is that I can’t define your success any more than I can tell you what makes you happy, what gives you joy or what to have for dinner.

My conclusion is that at least in my case, success has nothing to do with numbers, if it’s appropriate at all. Because I have two children who continue to make me proud, my feelings are that I have been a responsible and caring mother. Not living under a bridge or in a shelter suggests that my financial endeavors have been successful. Most of my days in the classroom result in learning. And having created a formidable body of written material indicates that I have learned to overcome writer’s block enough to throw words into paragraphs.

Finally, having one or two or three people who call me friend constitutes one of life’s most formidable feelings of a life with happiness and meaning. Perhaps seeking success in the first place is best left for entrepreneurs and rock stars. The possibility is that seeking success eliminates our pursuits of dreams much greater. Shalom

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Teaching the teacher

We adults probably need to become more like the kids whom we influence. Observing them can educate us more than we can ever hope to teach them.

For example, kids celebrate everything. Winning a game will illuminate and detonate a little girl to jump repeatedly up and down. And kids will happily allow someone to take a drink of water ahead of them in the spirit of teamwork and cooperation.

Young children have no boundaries, artificial or otherwise. They will wear any color or pattern with any other, with absolutely no regard for fashion standards. They treat all people the same, regardless of color, gender, size or language. If they see a fellow student struggling with a word or equation, most will offer to help.

Students always seek attention, more often positive than negative. If they get an “attaboy” or “attagirl,” that will always suffice. Many want to be helpers. The majority will rush to identify those who are breaking rules, often taking responsibility for correcting the transgressors.

We can learn unconditionality from our kids. We can also learn that it’s happy and fun to seek reasons for jubilation. By loaning someone a crayon that they urgently need, we see boundless compassion. By being punctual and orderly, we see the value of organization. And by learning to keep opinions until asked, we can learn respect. When one student sneezes (or I do), several students bless the sneeze. Can’t we all use more blessings?

Because I have one or two or five students per day who instruct me on what they always do, I have a new appreciation for continuity. At the same time, I teach that change, generally feared, is something to be understood and embraced. By doing so, I understand resiliency.

The most vital lesson we can learn is to ask for what we want or need. When hunger calls, we need to be forthcoming about satisfying a basic need. And when we need to be hugged, the best strategy is simply to ask. Shalom.

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Dear Mom

Although you have been gone from this world for many years, this is the first time that I have thought about and initiated a letter to you for Mother’s Day. While I have no fantasies about your being able to hear my words, I never stop seeking a method with which to communicate and a reason to reflect.

My belief is that you would be both pleased and disappointed with what the world has become. We have crimes that are new to our generation and world conflicts that are specific to this century and part of the last. Our rental and home prices are exorbitant, clothing styles have changed radically and our methods for completing all of the actions of life are different, occasionally for the better.

But if I could somehow tell you that people are fundamentally the same as they have always been, I would eagerly do so. We are often made aware of our fellow man completing acts of kindness for others simply for the sake of doing good. Our society is full of organizations that provide support to the homeless, indigent, those suffering from terminal illnesses and countless other causes and reasons for us to deposit good into the universe. And I am fortunate to experience all manner of kindness and generosity in my life.

From my standpoint, I have always sought to conduct my life in a manner that I learned from your examples and teaching. You taught the value of being kind to others, never living beyond my means, working hard for anything that I wanted and making the best of any and every situation that I face. As I observe my own children, I feel strongly that those lessons have been taught and understood.

If I could wish you a Mother’s Day, I would tell you that every day of my life reminds me of your wisdom and your absence. Instead, I make it a practice to appreciate and celebrate all those who are mothers. As I hope to bring honor and pride to that status I owe to my indescribably wonderful daughter and son, I am always grateful to you for your legacies. Shalom.

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One more step

Living in the present has its unique responsibilities. Countless writers and philosophers have warned us to seize the day, live each moment and not waste our time on empty fantasies.

For as much as I adhere to the idea of fully living life, I think that we can do better. My definition of this is taking an extra step. Paying it forward is a version of this but I aspire to a more personal and specific form of giving.

Doing just enough is insufficient. Perhaps an assortment of examples will best explain what I mean.

My son recently visited Chicago to meet a friend and attend a Chicago Cubs/Colorado Rockies baseball game. It would have been enough to send a photo of Wrigley Field. But he did more by sending a picture from a local landmark and another of the Rockies entering the field.

My daughter always exceeds the definition of sufficiency. She’ll send videos and breathtaking photos of my grandchildren, often wearing the clothes that I sent or capturing unique, memorable slices of time.

On a daily basis, I am the recipient of the next step in the form of early morning coffee. My car is often given a full tank of gas and I am never allowed to carry a basket of laundry up the stairs.

In my world, I spend time trying to exceed what’s required or expected of me. That’s why I bring candy and craft supplies to my school kids. And it’s why I’ll buy a favorite bread, vegetable or dessert when they aren’t part of the shopping list.

We all have opportunities to take an extra step in all of our settings. It can be baking something for co-worker, shoveling snow from a neighbor’s driveway or making certain to be early for appointments.

Most of the extraordinary steps don’t cost a cent. To me, the most important ones are anonymous and complete surprises. When you spend that much less time gratifying your needs and more in embellishing the lives of others, the sense of joy is immeasurable. Shalom.

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Persistence

Energy and persistence conquer all things.  Benjamin Franklin

Having just experienced a serious personal disappointment, it somehow occurred to me to employ a technique that was popular during my years in sales. It was the Benjamin Franklin close. On one side of a page you list all of the whys; on the other side, you list all of the why nots. By the time you have finished the list, the whys are predicted to outweigh the why nots. With that foundation, I found the quote from Mr. Franklin most timely.

My approach to handling this crisis consisted of modifying the close technique. On the one side, I’ve compiled the down sides of what happened. Opposite that, I’m working on all of the upsides to my status.

The details of the situation are less important here than the methodology employed to overcome it.

Persistence is on the plus side of my list. My life has been characterized by it and I see that the best way to accomplish what I seek is to continue doing what I do. Energy is another of my assets. While I experience fatigue in the same way that others do, I have fewer than five sick days in my entire career and I have never no-showed a responsibility to which I have committed. It seems clear that I need to remain energetic and anticipate positive results.

The more I reflect, the more reasons I discover to rise above my setback. One of the most powerful is that of support. With the advantage of a robust family cheering section, I need only ask for reinforcements and I receive more than I could imagine.

Beyond that, I have all of the skills, professional and personal, with which I began the day. While I am forever in the process of expanding and enhancing those attributes, they have allowed me to succeed in a variety of settings and overcome some serious roadblocks.

The lesson becomes eminently clear: by continuing along the paths I have chosen, I will prevail and find ways to recover. As I frequently teach young people, situations only become problems when you don’t have to tools to eliminate them. Shalom.

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Wildlife and wisdom

After a week of spectacular views and countless wildlife sightings, the return to reality was jarring. But it didn’t take more than a few minutes to discover a different type of beauty within the classroom.

As always, I was greeted by hugs and the need to confirm that I would be present all day. And as expected, kids were visibly pleased when I remembered their names.

But the community circle where we shared the events of our weekend brought me back into focus about individual priorities. One student was scratched by his cat, one watched a basketball court collision and one acquired new notebooks and pencils.  Recognizing the importance of these events and my implicit responsibility to acknowledge the significance of each were mandatory.

The gifts these children give me are no less valuable than observing a herd of Montana bison. They allow me to participate in their growth, according to their unique styles. They do this by laughing, crying, confiding and sometimes merely through eye contact. My favorite is the girl who is busily writing a love letter to me, looks up and brightly smiles at me.

One by one, they appear at the desk to notify me that they are finished with their assignments. As if I have absolute power over their next hour, they all wait for me to deliver guidelines. When they are four or five years older, they will automatically try to check email or sports videos. But for now, they will (usually) comply with directions. They will do everything possible to secure my approval.

While my location in the world has changed drastically from one day to the next, my understanding of my world has merely adjusted. In one case, I am a citizen-observer, grateful for the beauty around me. In the next, my role is that of leader-observer, assisting with the diversity of learning.

Love for my surroundings is the same in both places. But while the mountains are massive and immutable, young minds continue changing and absorbing. Shalom.

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Adults and kids

Do adults ever really stop being kids when they grow up? The older I become, the more convinced I am that we all have kid selves in us that need to be released in order to get some exercise.

Grown up men are always collecting toys. Watch the expressions on men’s faces as they take the first ride on a new tractor. Or get a man a new smart phone and watch his engagement as he checks out its useful and not-quite-useful but fun features. Adult women collect toys as well. There’s always the newest beauty-making gizmo, shoes that were bought on a whim and other electronic entertainment.

On any visit to an amusement park, observe the roller coaster riders. Some of the most “terrifying” rides don’t allow true kids so the bigger ones definitely enjoy thrills and surprises. If the Disney engineers didn’t know about the kid-side of adults, why create rides that exclude small ones in order to create maximum terror?

Watch a senior citizen on a motorized scooter. While some of their facial contortions reflect fear, most of them look like three-year olds on their first tricycles. Zipliners and hang-glider participants have similar looks on their faces. It’s a combination of “School’s out for the summer” and “Oh my God, what am I doing here?”

Parents with small children become the kids they’re raising. Some of it is understandable. But I will always believe that teeter-totters, carousels and Candy Land represent parent fun in conjunction with interacting with children.

As for me, I am always surrounded by toys. When I’m at school, I’m on the playground or making crafts. At home, toys are to be found throughout the living space. Many of them reflect delicious, cherished places, events and people. Some of them share my innermost secrets. And some are just good to touch without thinking about all of the anxieties and frustrations of adulthood. Shalom.

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Then and now

Thirty years ago, I carefully monitored my bank account (by calling the bank for the balance). Today, I search the landscape for the exhilaration associated with spotting a moose.

Twenty years ago, I wondered whether or not I would spend the rest of my life alone. Today, it’s coffee and breakfast for two.

Forty plus years ago, I eagerly anticipated completing the requirements for my bachelor’s degree. This morning, I accepted the request to substitute in sixth grade for the last week of classes.

Twenty-five years ago, I hoped that my children would grow up to be responsible, intelligent adults. Today, I continue to be amazed at their brilliance and compassion.

Because change is inevitable, our responsibility as adults is to understand the best methods for embracing and enjoying change. That’s not to say that our pasts are worthy of being forgotten. We can’t measure how much of our present is because of its contrast to the past. But we can evaluate how much we’ve learned from our memories and how that learning facilitates our ability to celebrate the present.

As I educate those who are assembling memories for later reference, I am acutely aware of the impact that we have on those young minds. Long ago, I learned never to say something that I would like to take back. My hope is that those who have heard my words for as long as I have had something to say have benefited from those words.

Someone close to me remarked recently that I was probably not as equipped to teach immediately after college as I am now. That occurs to me frequently, emphasizing how critical it is to be intentional about what we do and say.

In the past, I had a reputation for speaking my mind, no matter where or when. Now I have succeeded in being appreciated for what I say, probably because of the differences between then and now. Shalom.

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Taking the time

The areas in and around Yellowstone National Park provide countless lessons in good taste and civility in addition to breathtaking scenery. My faith in the future of our people is always reinforced in locations such as these.

Most of that encouragement is based on observations of how people treat each other and their surroundings. While we see the occasional rushing vehicle that’s impatient with wildlife viewing, most drivers observe speed limits and take the time to appreciate the magnificent world around them. The majority of people are respectful, courteous and as grateful for the lushness of the park as I am. Park grounds are immaculate, not only due to the diligence of park staff but also because visitors are conscientious about cleanliness.

We visitors to their national home are generally unobtrusive. Sometimes we pull out of the road to snap pictures or inhale the fragrance of lush wilderness. But occasionally we have a less judicious traveler flipping off an adjacent visitor who didn’t feel like waiting for bison traffic to pass. Maybe this genius will grow up and discover that what’s truly important isn’t immediacy.

Animals establish the tone for laid-back, contemplative observation. The bison methodically wander the hills, stopping to sample a tasty spot of land. Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep are equally unrattled, ambling and chewing at will. Bears and moose are more elusive, making their appearance extremely joyous.

Many animal sightings occur thanks to gatherings of others who point out nearby critters. It’s as if we share a love for outdoors, wildlife and the grandeur of vast snow-covered hills. Perhaps it’s the realization, conscious or otherwise, that there are truths and magnificent beauty far greater than any one of us.

The hikers, bikers, photographers and amateur viewers all defer to our surroundings. Somehow, we all know that we are ephemeral and grateful for living in this timeless space. Shalom.