Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Komodo dragons

Several days ago, I was approached by a first grade young man who displayed his most treasured possession, a book about Komodo dragons. He was fascinated by the creatures and returned twice to point out another characteristic.

Fortunately, I saw this as a terrific opportunity and looked him squarely in the eyes. Here’s what I said:

“You know, it’s clear that you really love this animal and I can understand why. How about if I call you Komodo today and it will be our secret why I’m calling you that.”

His eyes doubled in size and his grin, complete with a gap where front teeth will be, confirmed that this was going to be a good deal. After assuring him that I was serious, he bounced away and returned to scrutinizing his book.

Throughout the day he approached me, smiling and making certain that he was sitting as closely as possible when the class was on the carpet. We maintained our secret all day and during the time we played a game that produced candy rewards, he disclosed his favorite candy. Imagine his surprise to discover that his choice was the same as mine.

At the end of this delightful day, everyone received candy and I produced his special treat that I had been holding after I discovered it at the bottom of my bag. His face was radiant as I placed it in his hand.

A close friend to whom I told the story advised that he will never forget what we shared, and I hope that she’s right. In the interim, please understand why I’m an educator and not a sub, substitute or temporary teacher, all of which are inaccurate. Be certain that as long there are children for whom I have responsibility, they will be my treasures. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Brevity

The most interesting information comes from children, for they tell all they know and then stop. Mark Twain

Whenever I run short of life occurrences that provide literary motivation, I check with Mark Twain and he always has something that clangs loudly for me. For fear of sounding as if I am complaining, I really like this truism because it’s one of the most charming aspects of children.

If you are asking questions of children, it’s very common to receive one or two-word answers. I don’t know. Yes. No. I’m not sure. We didn’t study that. The more interesting answers are when you succeed at striking a nerve for which a child has passion.

For example, I have experienced three or four-minute dissertations about playing with a younger sibling. He does this and then he does that. Sometimes we pretend that we are this and he loves it when I tickle him or let him play with one of my special toys.

Another triggering event is talking about travel. One of those questions that I often ask is, “What are you planning on doing for this vacation?” The inquiry elicits only one of two responses. Either it’s a short (economical) answer such as, “I’m going to play with my cousin [brother, sister]” or “We’re going away” to somewhere.

In the first case, brevity takes over and I leave it to my imagination as to what playing will be. In the event that the child is traveling, I’ll get who’s going, method of transportation, who will be waiting at the destination and what they will do upon arrival.

My conclusion is that education-related information is delivered quickly and expediently while personal data is likely to be more plentiful and descriptive. This causes me to wonder about the true goals of education. Are they to generate nearly-automatic responses (how much is two times seven or what’s the capital of Colorado) or to encourage self-expression and detail? The convenient answer is probably “both.”  My guess is that I’ll leave the first half to full-time teachers and promote the self-expression. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

The best of days

Sometimes I try to remember what it feels like to be on the student side of the teacher-student equation. When I remind myself that I was immovable in my determination to be the perfect student, my own experience is simplified.

But here we are, some years later, with few kids displaying cooperation and obedience. Here’s what I think is going on in the minds of many of my students:

Oh, no. We have a sub today. I’ve seen her in the school before, but I don’t know anything about her. I bet she’s mean.

I have my fidget spinner with me, and I bet she knows. I’m sure she knows that we’re not supposed to have one in school. If I’m careful, she won’t see it.

Wonder if she knows what she’s doing. She has gray hair so she’s either slow or she’s been teaching for a long time.

I’m going to have to show her what to do. We do a lot of stuff every day and she won’t be able to figure out how our schedule goes.

I’ll tell her that I am [regular teacher’s] special helper. That way she won’t get confused.

She brought a bag into school with her. I hope she has candy.

Hope it’s lunch soon. I want to be outside with my friends.

Just for comparison, here’s what’s not going on in the minds of my students:

I’m going to figure out how to do everything right.

My job is to be the best kid she’s ever had.

I wonder if one hug per hour is too much.

My job is to help keep all of the other kids in the class doing their work.

Perhaps I’m overestimating the capabilities of students in grades K-5. If I do that, they continue to have the potential for exceeding my expectations. Happily, no matter what they choose to do, my kids always educate and inspire me. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Superstitions

As knowledgeable, tech-savvy adults, most of us are likely to discount our adherence to or respect for many of the superstitions with which we were raised. Some of them are worth forgetting – step on a crack, break your mother’s back is a good example.

But I pay attention to the many old sayings or expressions that we learned in our youth. Every morning, when I am preparing to face the day and feel tempted to sing along with the radio, I remember my remarkable Aunt Lorraine who always admonished that it was bad luck to sing before breakfast.

She also comes to mind when I make certain that all closet doors are closed before I retire for the night. While I don’t remember what the origin of that rule was, I guess that it was a combination of bad luck and not angering the great gods of closet life.

It might be fun to track some of our old superstitions and see where they have landed. One that comes to mind is throwing salt over the shoulder. And there are some beauties on the Internet.

It appears that putting your clothes on inside out in Russia is bad luck. You can overcome the mojo by immediately putting them on correctly and have someone symbolically strike you. You’re not allowed to whistle indoors in Lithuania or the demons will be solicited. In Africa, you’re not allowed to sleep with your head to the west. Violating this one will also result in some bad luck.

One that I remember from my past is that having itchy palms is an indication that you’re going to acquire some money. Apparently, that superstition continues in Turkey. And here’s one of my favorites. Reportedly, stepping in dog poop is good luck to Frenchmen, especially if it’s your left foot.

Have some fun with all of that, if you like. But please don’t scold me for singing in the morning before breakfast. While I know that I am tempting fate, I’ll take my chances. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Looking at reality

It has been quite rare in my lifetime for me to need a serious look at potential future reality. Yesterday was one of those occasions and I learned a great deal about myself and taking certain conditions for granted.

Simply put, I was required to undergo a minor eye surgery that was quickly and expediently completed. Before beginning, the doctor advised that there was a minor chance of retinal tear that would have grave consequences (my wording, not his) in terms of my vision.

Several hours later, as I experienced considerable pain and profound inability to focus, I considered the possibility of my life with permanently compromised vision. Yes, this is arguably a case of over-reaction, paranoia or catastrophizing. I’ll gracefully accept any of these descriptions.

The lesson learned, however, was a new appreciation for an ability to see with which I was born. Would I no longer be able to view my magnificent grandchildren? How would my future as a writer continue? It went on and on, without any serious basis in reality.

Thankfully, my vision is near normal after eight hours sleep. But I have a new-found respect and admiration for those whose sight is negligible or missing altogether. While I believe that I practice gratitude for my sight, I will especially value my ability to see from here going forward. In addition, I promise to appreciate the medical genius to which I have had access.

Somehow, growing older necessitates the realization of our many gifts. This is clearly an example, a reminder that my life is enabled and embellished by the countless advantages with which I have been blessed. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Resolving

“Your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other.” Abraham Lincoln

Someone for whom I have profound respect, personally and professionally, advised me yesterday that he was busy developing goals for the new year. As I recently posted, I personally eschew resolutions other than the resolution not to make resolutions. However, Mr. Lincoln, as always, motivates me to reflect on success and the goal to achieve it.

If you poll a group of elementary school students on what they want to achieve when they are older, most will immediately mention wealth. This may be due to the demographics of my teaching area, generally a socio-economically depressed zone. However, they also surprise me with the ubiquitous desire to help other people.

And so, I suggest that we can measure success in an endless number of dimensions. While I don’t resolve to make a difference in a specific number of children’s lives, my success is surely measured (daily) on the number of illumination moments I can observe. My conviction (and Mr. Lincoln’s, it seems), is to succeed in those areas where we can all make the greatest amount of difference.

Here are some examples. If your new year determination is to work out and advance your physical well-being, success can and should be launching your exercise routine. Do it once, twice, three times or seven times per week and you have succeeded.

Let’s imagine that you are aspiring to write a book. Does success exist only when you complete the first, second or third draft? Absolutely not! Creating the intent and committing to following through with it constitute success. My observations of people suggest that many fail at their determinations because they equate success and completion.

If you set no goals, objectives or destinations, it’s certain that you won’t reach them. Make them realistic and enable yourself to achieve. You may be surprised to find that winning becomes cumulative. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Competition

Yesterday I watched the finals for 2018 women’s figure skating championships and couldn’t help but marvel at the beauty, precision and grace of the competitors. If you are at all like me, you visualize yourself on ice, completing some or all of the magnificent moves that these skaters do.

As one whose skating consisted of several attempts at an outdoor pond that was frozen over in some hand-me-down skates, I can vaguely understand the hours, months and years necessary to reach these levels of accomplishment. It doesn’t take very long for me to conclude that this activity is best left to those much younger and more agile.

With a small amount of creativity, it’s fun to imagine bringing these types of competition to arenas with which I am familiar. What if I were able to compete for a gold, silver or bronze medal in downhill punctuation? How about cross-country grammar? And then there’s competitive figures of speech.

Yes, of course, my field of writing has its awards and distinctions, not only from a skill level but also in terms of sales. Stephen King has nothing to fear from my entering his horror/excitement genre – the scariest thing that I can think of in my experience was finding a mouse trapped and wriggling within the trap that I had set.

The accomplishments that I witnessed on ice yesterday were quite enjoyable and I found myself cheering for one competitor or another based on personality, humility and true passion for the endeavor. While I have no expectations that I will be celebrated for thousands of business letters, ongoing blog content and two (maybe three) books, I can imagine standing on the podium with any of the skating competitors just to see how it feels.

We’re all good at something, with some of us receiving medals and others of us feeling good that we’ve helped or entertained others with words. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Loyalty

Because we are constantly inundated with information on our various devices, we have become somewhat desensitized to a great deal of it. I’m not sure what the number is for the amount of data we can incorporate at any given moment, hour, day or otherwise. But when something is extraordinary, I am grateful for the ability to view something that wasn’t filtered.

Today I saw a brief clip that was untitled but as poignant a piece as I can remember seeing. It was a video of a severely disabled gentleman who was walking slowly with a cane, his dachshund by his side. The dog would take several steps, wait for his owner to catch up to him and resume his walk.

Over six million people had viewed this video by the time I did but I elected not to read the comments from any of them. The word “loyalty” was noted but my reaction and subsequent thoughts made this title somewhat inadequate.

My choice is to accept and treasure this two minutes as a moment of love, patience, understanding and beauty. Clearly, Fido was committed to his master, regardless of the speed with which he moved. And I can only imagine the feelings that the man had for his short friend who followed wherever he led.

If I am fortunate enough to see this type of devotion once in a week, a month, a year or a decade, I am grateful. Perhaps my eternal fear of losing my own mobility causes me to be touched by this gentleman’s fortitude. There’s no doubt that I’m a sucker for cute dog videos.

But this short piece of humanity displays the type of unconditional love that I treasure. If I have proven this level of caring for another human in my life, I am grateful. If we have evidence of what’s possible between other creatures on the planet that we occupy, so much the better. Shalom.

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Just wait

A comedy gag that I remember clearly and often is a simple knock-knock joke. It goes like this:
Knock-knock.

Who’s there?

Before the knock-knocker has a chance to finish, the respondent stops him with, “Interrupting person (or man or woman or child).”

The joke relies on people interrupting each other. Because this is a habit that I try desperately to avoid and dislike in others, the joke always rings a bell with me.

Several days ago, I (thoroughly) wasted some time watching daytime television. It was one of those predictable dramas replete with accusations, paternity tests and endless shrieking. One of the key realities is that everyone was loudly interrupting everyone else.

My interpretation of this unfortunate tendency is the message, “What I want to say is so important that I can’t or won’t wait until you’re finished speaking.” But I am fully willing to believe that there are other reasonable explanations for this heinous human habit.

Maybe it’s a function of, “I just thought of something phenomenally relevant that I need to share before I lose it.” Or, “What’s the importance of a convention such as waiting for another person to stop? We don’t bow or curtsy in many societies either.” Yet another explanation and one that I hear often is, “It’s called conversation. That’s how people communicate.” Hmmm.

This is another of those issues to which I won’t surrender. How many courtesy conventions do we casually delete before we’re back to dragging each other around by the hair and beating people with clubs? Yes, I know that I exaggerate.

But when will the germophobes talk us into eliminating handshakes? Opening a car door for a lady is rarely seen. And it’s scary to observe the disrespect by many younger people to parents and others. I’ll just keep banging my drum, try not to interrupt others and hope that it’s contagious. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Happier new year

On this last day of the year 2017, I am cognizant of my annual resolution – I resolve not to make any resolutions. One commitment that I make often, however, is to increase the positive contributions I can make to my world.

For reasons that I don’t understand entirely, I decided long ago to identify or create new methods for generating small acts of consideration. It’s quite gratifying although it includes taking some risks.

Here’s how it works. Yesterday morning, I was eating breakfast and overheard the people at the next table wondering about weather. It was my last day in California and I had checked the forecast for my trip home.

Taking the chance that I would be advised to mind my own business, I volunteered the forecast, making certain that I converted the temperature to Celsius when asked. Of course, I refrained from asking why they were operating in Celsius. Clearly, I had nothing to gain other than being helpful.

Later I was asked to watch a fellow passenger’s suitcase in the airport and eagerly agreed to do so. Did I need to wait for most passengers to board before I entered the plane? Probably not, but I’m sure that it made boarding a bit easier for some.

A passenger next to me asked the flight attendant for a pen. As before, overhearing conversations entitles me to a variety of negative reactions. But I quickly produced the pen and told the recipient to keep it. He thanked me but said absolutely nothing else to me during the flight and that was just fine.

My point is that most of us have ongoing occasions to add some comfort to the lives of others. Every time that I can, I (safely) pause at driveways for the sake of enabling someone to leave a parking lot and enter the street.  We can all observe simple courtesies on the road as well as encouraging fellow shoppers to get ahead of us when they have few items or helping others with grocery bags.

Most of us can do several small acts of good-neighborliness every day. Just imagine the net effect if many of us ordinary folks exert ourselves just a little bit, by intention. Happy new year. Shalom.