Keep it simple, sir

More often than seems appropriate, I see writing from those who are attempting to be scholarly or knowledgeable and wind up looking foolish. To these folks, I implore – keep it simple.

Here are a few examples. If you are referring to the aspect of medicine dedicated to keep illness or injury from happening, this is referred to as preventive. Too often I see the word “preventative” which is correct, I suppose, but adds a syllable that is not necessary. The same concept is true of the words among and amongst. I’ve noticed that amongst is more commonly used in the UK, but among is preferred and to me, sounds much better.

In this case, I’m not referring to incorrect usage such as irregardless or supposably, both of which are often used. I’m talking about trying to be right while failing at it. Supposably is in fact a word that means imagined or supposed but most of the time that it is used, the word supposedly is intended. Irregardless is a non-word.

Ultimately, it comes down to how important it is for you to be right. As a writer, it is crucial that I am correct in my spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Not only am I evaluated for future work according to these standards, but also it is a matter of professional integrity.

It always baffles me when I see major errors on television banners. It’s hard to list all of them but I’m worried because when we see “sight” that is intended to be “site” and other words that are blatantly wrong, I remember that children are seeing these and believing that if it’s on television, it must be correct.

So if you are using scholarly words or those with frequent misspellings, do yourself a favor and double check them. If you want to tell me that it’s unimportant or to mind my own business, I understand that too. Just don’t expect anyone to rely on you for accurate language. Shalom.

Wishing

How often, in the course of a day or week or month, do you hear someone (including yourself) begin a sentence with “I wish?” Sadly, many of us have spent far too long wishing for things that are either unimportant or impossible to achieve. By no means am I suggesting that we should stop dreaming – as long as we make some effort to have our dreams materialize.

Here are some examples: When I tell someone that I am writing a book, I often hear, “I wish that I could write.” You can visit an art gallery and hear one of the visitors utter, “I wish that I could paint.” It gets to be more common in conversations about travel, occupations, or living spaces.

If you’re spending most or much of your time wishing instead of doing, you are wasting that time. Do one of two things. Either take action to make your wishes come true or spend your time working on those situations or conditions that you can control.

Not everyone is suited to be someone who can sit in front of a canvas and create something that is acceptable or wonderful. The chances are reasonably good that if you’re an adult and haven’t yet identified a talent for art, most likely you don’t have it. Or if you think you do, take an art class and find out for sure.

The same can be said for writing, sculpting, architecture, or music. Why waste your time thinking about a musician? Decide what instrument you want to play and take lessons. Or if you are a vocal performer, find a local chorus or choir and see if you feel comfortable and confident there. If you want to be a writer, take a writing class, then begin to write. And if you want to be a distance runner, confirm that you are in physical shape to undertake the effort, then go out and run. Start with small distances and add to them as you feel that you are able.

Every time you wish for something that you don’t make happen, you are sending yourself a negative message of inadequacy or incompletion. No-one needs that. Although I would like to be able to draw, I am fine with wearing the hat of a writer and all of the other hats I wear. Shalom.

Know you can

On Sunday, I will keep a promise to myself by accomplishing a task. Any way I approach it, the task will be a difficult one, the details of which are less significant than my decision to complete it. Because I have time to prepare, I think about those actions that we take that require more of “I can” than “I think I can.”

When I think about all of those people whom I consider my heroes, they are such because of their unwillingness to be defeated. By no means am I comparing myself to those who are my heroes – there is little chance that I will ever be able to change the world in a significant way. But I derive strength from those who did not say, “I think I can” instead of “I will.”

On a regular basis, I tell my students not to try to do something. Trying suggests the opportunity to fail. Instead, I tell them to complete or fix or accomplish something. Don’t try to do your math. Complete your math and just think about how good you’ll feel when you do.

The attitude with which we approach a challenge determines our ability to accomplish it. This is true in every aspect of life, whether it be a college degree, having a child, or learning complex materials. When I began my first book, I never told myself that I thought I could write a book. Instead, I decided that I would do so, regardless of the road blocks that I might encounter along the way.

And so, when it gets difficult to add words and pages to my next book, I remind myself that I am the only one who can do it. I also remember that I am the only one whom I want to do it, due to my commitment to the subject and my preparation to cover it.

Don’t try to do something. Approach it with the express decision to complete it. My best guess is that it will make the entire process easier and infinitely more enjoyable. Shalom.

Have fun!

One of my husband’s habits that is a source of curiosity to me is also quite provocative. Whenever I leave to teach or run an errand, he always suggests that I have fun. It doesn’t matter where I’m going – he wants me to have fun.

Is this a message that it is important to him that I enjoy myself? Or is it a suggestion that what’s most important for us as living beings is to treasure whatever it is that we’re doing? I’m thinking that it’s a little bit of both.

Maybe he’s right in believing that some or all of us spend too much time and energy on those tasks that are less than enjoyable. As hard as I try, I can’t think of anyone who gets up and out of bed in the morning with the intention of having a fun day. My next thought is, why is this the case?

We resolve to complete multiple activities such as cleaning the house, doing the grocery shopping, or pulling weeds. Although those need to be done, they are not the only tasks to which we should be assigning ourselves. What if we were determined to posit more fun in our lives?

There are endless options. Trying a new food or recipe can be fun if cooking is your passion. Visit an antique shop and find something that speaks to you and your history. Volunteer at a school, retirement community, or food bank. Paint a wall in your home that is crying for attention. Get a pedicure. Go to a paint-your-own pottery studio and enjoy that form of creativity.

If we set out to increase the joy and gratification in our lives, we can truly benefit. Depending on what constitutes fun for you, do that. Watching a television program where a lady and her mother enjoy visiting cemeteries, it occurs to me that I would not find it fun. Another lady likes finding and exploring lighthouses, something I would prefer to cemeteries. I guess that you don’t need to be near a coast to find one, but if you enjoy it, do it.

Our time on earth is uncertain at best. When we stuff it with must-dos and urgent tasks, we stop enjoying the journey while we take one more step toward the destination. Whatever you are doing, wherever you are going, have some fun. Shalom.

Greatness

Having just watched a special about Linda Ronstadt, I am inspired and saddened by her story. She spent a long career following her dreams, creating powerful music, and leaving a major impact on the music industry. Now she is retired, unable to sing because of a debilitating illness. Regardless of how you may feel about her politics, singing voice, or music, she created a huge library of musical masterpieces.

As I continue working on my next book, her story is close to my heart as one who wants to create something that is exceptional. If I think of the greatest books that have been written, there is a very long list to consider. It’s likely that none of the authors responsible for these books set out to write epic literature but that doesn’t change my intention.

Is it right to aspire to greatness? Does anyone aspire to mediocrity? My subject matter is of tremendous importance – it is the Holocaust, with its devastation and immense loss. But I continue to aspire to writing a work that is consistent with the significance of the subject. With that as a starting point, how does the desire for a great book impact its writing?

This is not a question easily answered. One answer is to write it as I ordinarily do, with the hope that it becomes a truly wonderful work. Another is to invest all of my heart and talent into its creation. Another, seriously dismal response is to do my best and hope that it flies, with the realization that the percentage of books that achieve the status of landmarks is extremely low.

Ultimately, it all amounts to writing what I do and publishing, with the conviction that I have done my best and have achieved my objective of honoring the subject matter. My hope is that my readers are informed and enhanced by the work that I have done. More importantly, my goal has always been to provide a history that is a learning tool, to delineate what was done with the reminder that we must never forget the tragedies of the Holocaust so as to make it possible for them to be repeated.

Beyond that, I suppose that I have lived up to my expectations by teaching and memorializing. The satisfaction of that goal must constitute greatness – that I have spent the time and heart in listening to my heart while telling a vitally crucial story. Shalom.

Save one life

Waiting for results on some important medical diagnostic tests, I can’t help but consider the subject of mortality. We all have only one shot at life on this planet, making it mandatory that we make the best of the one life that we are afforded.

On what seems like a daily basis, we see new stories of mass shootings or an incident resulting in death in multiple cities around the world. It feels as though we have almost become immune to this news, a fact that makes me very sad.

For those who are unfamiliar with sacred Jewish writings, the Mishnah is part of the Talmud, rabbinic discussions on Jewish law, ethics, legends, etc. A famous Mishnah tells us, “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

Each time that I hear of a parent killing a child, a husband killing a wife, or a gang member killing another in retaliation, I think of this quote. By no means do I want to launch a diatribe about gun control. But I do have great fears that we have lost an understanding of the sacredness of life.

It doesn’t take much effort to compile a list of the people who have changed the world in some way. George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are on this list. So are Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Jonas Salk, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Where would we be if these lives had been ended in infancy? And how many of today’s children would grow up to be just as influential if a mother hadn’t drowned him or her in a swimming pool?

At no time, in no place, under any circumstances, do I have the ability to take the life of another unless one of my children or grandchildren is in danger. Realizing that and the frequency and apparent nonchalance of those who do, I continue to worry. This realization causes me to wonder if other educators are teaching the importance of every life to every student. If so, are we making certain that they are listening?

It’s difficult to de-glamorize the violence that children are seeing on television, movies, and video games. But I staunchly believe that we need to spend at least as much energy on acts of kindness, benevolence, and ingenuity. Shalom.

Dear old Dad

For the past few weeks, I have been thinking quite often about my dad. He died in 1980, so by definition, all of my memories are in the distant past.

Most of these thoughts have been about the expressions he frequently used, cliche or otherwise. As ridiculous as some of them may have seemed at the time, either I heard them so many times or they left a lasting impression, or both. Here are some examples:

The highest compliment that Dad could ever pay was that someone “had a good head on his shoulders.” Having been a smart mouth for many years, I’m certain that I wanted to say in response, “As opposed to his spleen? Or his elbow?” Dad didn’t do well with sarcasm so I’m thinking that I would have kept such comments to myself.

I also liked the expression, “nuttier than a fruitcake.” How nutty is a fruitcake? Do people still eat fruitcakes, except maybe during Christmas season?

Another good one was “A good swift kick in the butt wouldn’t hurt you a bit.” Seriously? At 5’11” and close to 300 lbs., any of his kicks would have been life-changing. My recollection is that he said this more to my brothers than to me. But still….

The last one went something like this: “He (or she) has a lot of book smarts but doesn’t have the good sense to come in out of the rain.” I’m sure he used this one quite a bit. As the youngest child and only girl, I decided early on that I would make my mark on the world by being scholarly. And that was the path that I took, always reading or doing homework. Guess I just didn’t want to be short in both categories.

What were the examples of lacking good sense? It could have been not boiling potatoes long enough for them to be mashable. Or it could have been leaving my bike outside all night instead of bringing it inside to the porch. Right now, I can’t remember.

As always, there is a moral of the story. My dad had no intention to demoralize, demonize, or destroy my self-esteem. Because I recollect these warnings and others, I have to believe that he was intending to teach me what he could. Our kids and students remember what we say to them. It means that we need to be judicious about what we say because our words will last longer than we do. Shalom.

Let it rain

What is it about the rain falling that I find so relaxing and sustaining? Maybe it’s because the rain follows many days of 90+ degree days that are wholly unenjoyable. Maybe it’s a form of punctuation to a writing milestone in my book that I reached early in the day. Or maybe it’s the combination of cleansing, revitalizing, and purifying that is a result of the rain.

Although it doesn’t rain very often in this state, I never complain about more than 300 days of sunshine per year. It makes perfect sense that I shouldn’t or don’t want to complain about the rain. The garden likes it although the birds appear to go elsewhere when the skies are dark, gloomy, and wet. If I had the ability to smell my surroundings, I suspect that I would smell cleansing and freshness, but I can only try to remember.

All of this is to say that I am grateful for any day that I can get out of bed, put both feet on the ground, and move around without assistance. This has been a year of loss for me, making my continued survival more blessed than many others.

And so, I will inhale the rain, anticipate upcoming numerous days of sunshine, and continue my gratitude for good health and that of my loved ones. It will be sunny again tomorrow, a reality that will be good for my plants, birds, and me. In the meantime, we desperately needed the rain and it will deter any fires that may have wanted to start. Maybe it’s about taking the good with the bad. Whatever it is, everything is right and poised for nurturance of all that the rain and sunshine may touch. Shalom.

Healthy food for thought

Make a list of the concepts or entities in which you believe with the most passion. From here, that list begins with family, God, America, and education. After that, without elaborating on respect, kindness, and honesty, I must include long term care and life insurance.

No, this is not a thinly disguised sales pitch. In addition to the fact that I can’t or speak with most of you, selling insurance to anyone outside of New Mexico is impossible for me. But I can and will use this medium to mention the critical importance of life insurance.

Along the way, I’ve heard every possible excuse for avoiding the purchase of life insurance. I’m too young. It’s too expensive. I don’t have anyone in my life whom I want to make rich. Every one of these and most of the others are invalid.

Not all insurance is expensive. The younger you are when you invest in it, the lower the premium. As you get older, there are more and more possibilities for medical exclusions. And as for not having anyone to benefit, will that always be the case? Do you want your parents, children, other relatives, or friends to assume responsibility for your untimely death and burial?

There are very few situations where young people (under 45) are uninsurable. Numerous flavors of life insurance are available from which you can choose. If you want plain, uncomplicated term insurance, that’s the least expensive and easiest to do. But if you would prefer to direct money to a life insurance contract with cash value, that’s likely to be a more sound investment than many that are out there.

Life insurance doesn’t protect you in any way (unless you have a long term care benefit attached to it). Your death is certain and inevitable. But why impose hardships on those who survive you? In some cases, they will suffer from the loss of your paycheck. In other cases, they will need to find the money to memorialize and bury you.

You have my word that this purchase will be the most thoughtful and appreciated action you will ever take. Do this while you can and someone, someday, will be very glad that you did. Shalom.

Say you’re sorry

One of the expressions that I teach our children from the time that they are very young is “I’m sorry.” When one child hurts another in the classroom or on the playground, we gently remind the offender to say that he or she is sorry.

Unfortunately, I believe that like so many expressions that we use multiple times a day, the true sentiment of “I’m sorry is often absent. This occurred to me recently when my husband reported back pain, to which I replied, “I’m sorry your back hurts.”

Very often, when I express my sorrow for someone’s pain, I am told something like, “It’s not your fault that my back hurts. Why should you be sorry?” Does that mean we need some form of culpability in order to feel sorrow? I don’t think so.

One of the clearest memories I have of my mom is that she was always sorry if I was in pain for any reason. Of course, I never told her that it was her fault that I hurt. Instead, I just accepted it as an illustration of compassion and love. It clearly made an important, lasting impression. My earnest hope is that I extended the same sentiment with my own kids when they experienced loss or pain. I believe that I did.

And so I do everything in my power as an educator to teach the concept of compassion. It’s one thing to deliver a rushed “I’m sorry” to a classmate who just crashed and burned on the cement. It’s quite another to look that child in the eye and communicate, “I sincerely feel sad that you are in pain. I hope that you heal quickly.”

As adults, we similarly have the same range of emotional expression. When you lose a loved one, be certain that I understand the profundity of your pain. I will do anything and everything to support you. Shalom.