Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

As good as your word

The appointment was for 3:00 pm. We had diligently cleared an area to work and prepared our electric bills for the past year. This was the preface to a scheduled 3:00 appointment with a solar panel salesman who had energetically petitioned for an appointment to discuss the feasibility of solar panels for our home.

We observed 3:00, 3:30, 4:00 and 4:30 come and go, with the salesman failing to appear. From my standpoint, it was an opportunity to save some time. So far, I have yet to see the practicality of solar panels, especially because of the cost and the fact that our electric bills were the lowest I’ve seen in many years.

Ultimately, that’s not the point. Having spent the majority of my career in sales (with the hiatus in the classroom as the only exception – and aren’t I selling knowledge and learning?), I can safely say that I never no-showed an appointment. That’s not to say that I felt confident of the legitimacy in all my appointments, but I would never think of not appearing.

This is a sad commentary, on the integrity of the representative and maybe that of the company and/or its products. If you believe strongly enough in a product to make it available through door-to-door canvassing, you must have some conviction of its value. And there’s the fact that he neglected to secure a phone number when he set the appointment a week ago.

Any of the usual situations could have been in effect. He may have been ill. He may have had a sick family member or two. He may have gotten delayed on a previous appointment. He may have been run over by a road runner. But my best guess is that many have lost the professionalism that I feel is crucial to a viable sales career.

We’ll ultimately see if he shows up again or not. And if you want to make the case that his brand of salesmanship suggests large numbers for negligible chances of success, I understand that as well. No matter your conclusion, I maintain that we are only as good as our words. Telling someone, anyone that I will be somewhere at a certain time is tantamount to a promise. And breaking promises is a habit that I simply can’t support, for myself or those whom I am fortunate enough to educate. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Seizing the moment

Now and then I encounter someone to whom I disclose that I’ve written two books and have two more in the works. They often look at me with a combination of appreciation and embarrassment. When I ask for an explanation of the expression, I am usually told something similar to, “I could never do that.”

As a writer and educator, my response is almost always the same: You could if you want to badly enough. As you might expect, the excuses are plentiful. I don’t have the time, patience or clarity to assemble a book. No-one would read it. I don’t know if what I have to say is important enough to create a book.

There is absolutely no magic associated with becoming an author, provided that your expectations are reasonable. At no time did I ever expect to find my work on the New York Times bestseller list, nor did I anticipate becoming wealthy from my books. If those are your plans, you need either to have a powerful story to tell or the ability to handle disappointment.

What you can’t predict prior to the actual publication of a book is the sense of satisfaction to be gained from the process. A member of my family who was a World War II hero and successful businessman decided that he and the world would benefit from the telling of his life’s story. He followed it up with additional thoughts that he accumulated after the publication of the first.

The book was filled with spelling and grammatical errors. While I wasn’t trying to find them, my training as an editor made it difficult not to notice. But the very important point is that he proceeded with the telling of his tale and I salute him for having done so.

If you read this and entertain ideas of writing something, I can’t recommend strongly enough that you do it. Do it for the satisfaction to be gained. Do it for the sake of imparting something to someone or many others. Because all of our life experiences are unique, all of our stories are specific and valuable. If your writing journey is anything like mine, you will soon find that there is a vast quantity of learning to be done through the process of writing, by you and your readers. And in the words of my very wise son who coaches me for any 5k races that I undertake, it’s simply a matter of one foot in front of the other. Shalom.

 

 

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Meet me for lunch

For reasons that I haven’t quite determined, I often think about the person with whom I would have lunch if it could be anyone in the world, past or present. Although there doesn’t seem to be any immediate benefit from the exercise, the long-term gains are significant.

Time and space are irrelevant to this activity and as a result, at the top of my list would be my mom who died many years ago. To be sure, the downside of this lunch would be that it would end and that I would be required to lose her again. The second challenge would be to estimate what I would ask her and what her responses might be.

Some of the others on my list include Leonard Bernstein, Steve Jobs, Mahatma Gandhi and John Lennon – who changed the world in their own spheres. My best guess is that all of them would have wisdom or information that I would deem valuable and available nowhere else.

No, I don’t recommend that you expend any significant amount of time in fantasy, imagining the conversations that you would have with the person whom you would most like to meet. But I do suggest that it’s a worthwhile endeavor, for these reasons.

Sometimes we postpone or delete meetings with those who are still within our worlds, for reasons justifiable or otherwise. We’re too busy, we’ve been told no the last time we asked, it’s the wrong time of year, etc. If someone is in your world whom you treasure or respect, make the effort to connect. Because life is uncertain at best, your chances of meeting that person may be more limited than you know.

The possibility always exists that you may be responsible for an action that will powerfully impact the other person. That human may treasure the fact that you were thinking about them. You may be the exact person to answer a question or listen to a story that they need to tell. Under no circumstances do I have any dreams of making significant impact on the universe I inhabit. But I do like the fact that my invitation to lunch (or coffee, or dinner) has the potential to brighten the day of another. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Sacred space

Driving through Arizona on a less-traveled, two-lane highway affords a luscious assortment of sights. In addition to the mountains, the bountiful cacti are a delight. Saguaros are everywhere, as are prickly pears. And the Joshua trees redefine our notions of trees.

Unfortunately, this vast, pristine beauty is contaminated by the trash of thoughtless travelers. Stopping to snap some photos, we observed a large space that was covered with debris, ranging from plastic and glass bottles to discarded rags and paper of every variety.

My first thought is about the homes in which these inconsiderate slobs dwell. Maybe some are quite tidy. They wait until they are in a public space to unload unwanted items.  Or maybe they live in trash heaps and feel justified in recreating their domestic worlds. In either case, I resent defacing our environment with unsightly junk.

At no time, in no space, have I ever tossed trash out of my car (or home) window. When I see signs posted regarding penalties for littering, I always wonder if any are ever issued.

If you ever make the unfortunate decision to litter while in my space, it is likely that you will hear a protest from me. Yes, I realize that doing so could result in a compromise to my physical safety. But this vast and indescribably wonderful country does not deserve to be defaced.

We are all responsible for the world we occupy, including keeping it free of junk. For as long as I have the ability to assist others in preserving and treasuring our land, I will passionately do so. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

A song to sing

Although I’ve been teaching for nearly seventeen years (with a few breaks), until recently, I believed that I had identified many of the best methods of engaging students. Thanks to a request from a fifth grader, I increased my strategies, with happy results.

An important consideration is that I was in music class. The music teacher is out on leave and I assumed the responsibility for her classes. In each one, I invited students to participate in an impromptu talent show.

What an amazing display of talent! At least half of each class wanted to perform for his or her classmates. While a few displayed some stage fright and reticence, most had the presence and initiative to get up and dance, sing, cheerlead and do gymnastics.

But it wasn’t always the chatty, gregarious kids who did the performing. One young man who was a special needs student bravely stood up and demonstrated the sword maneuvers of which he was most proud. Another timid young student sang a fight song in a tiny, barely audible voice. Happily, the entire class stopped talking and listened attentively to her, offering sincere applause when she finished.

Some of us clearly have the need to display our talents and proficiencies. But to say that this is the sole motivation is only half truth. There is a powerful amount of adrenalin made available, whether you are a solo, group or ensemble.

And there is one more component, that of self-satisfaction. I tell students daily that everyone is good at something, inside the classroom or outside of it. One young man made the effort to confide in me that he was an artist, not a musician. He went on to say that his energies would best be directed elsewhere and I assured him that it was a great decision. To liberate the pride available through singing or anything else is to teach confidence, accomplishment and excellence.

Two days of my work are never the same. One day it’s curriculum, one chore after another. The next, I am watching little people stretching their artistic legs and identifying their places within the creativity community. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Best and worst

Someone recently told me that they had heard of a substitute teacher who had an awful class. Reportedly, this was the worst class in this teacher’s long career. This same group of students just left my classroom and I thanked each one for being awesome.

It’s difficult to believe that there are “bad kids.” Some of them present formidable discipline issues. The kindergartener who hit me (and other teachers) had serious problems with the school setting and at home. But calling him bad, to me, is a contradiction. If our responsibility it to educate and inform, we transform unacceptable behavior into that which is customary and appropriate.

And so, why was this such a horrible experience? Maybe this educator has exhausted her patience. Maybe the kids were having a difficult day due to weather, extracurricular activities or on the playground. Their classroom teacher is a dedicated, empathetic professional. Ultimately, I guess I’ll never know.

What I do know is that children have an innate talent to determine the character of their educators, permanent or temporary. While I won’t suggest that my character is superior in any way, I do believe that our methodologies must all be unique.

Yes, I’ve had difficult classes in all grades. As recently as last week, I had a stubborn, hostile student who wouldn’t listen to any of my suggestions. But he later reminded me that I was the teacher he missed most and the one he hugged several times as the class began. A colleague suggested to me that this was a student who was behaving out of routine rather than individual stimuli. By the end of the day, he was compliant, affectionate and happy.

It doesn’t work for me to take full responsibility for negative behavior. Too many causes may contribute to attitude and actions. But I am responsible for being careful about my reactions. If my class believed that I found them to be the worst, they would somehow manage to live down to my expectations. Shalom.

 

 

If I may assist you with any of your writing endeavors, it is my pleasure to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Heavenly hugs

Johnny silently hugged me as he came through the door of the classroom. Throughout the day, I looked his way and most of the time he delivered a happy, loving smile. The school day continued that way until it was time for the final goodbyes.

This was a second grade class consisting of children who knew me well as this was the fourth or fifth time I had spent the day with them this school year. Partially because of the population, partially because of their age and maybe because it was almost the end of the week, they were extremely chatty, except for Johnny.

He was distressed at the noise level, covering his ears and shaking his head. But due to his support for me and his discomfort, he constructed a notebook paper sign that had “STOP Talking” in the largest letters he could create. And he began waving it in the classroom at the noise-making students.

It’s difficult to say whether or not the sign had any effect. Several other students wanted to assist me in my silencing efforts, writing “Be Quite [sic]” and marching around the room. But Johnny was relentless, waving his paper and smiling his regrets at the disrespect we were witnessing.

It was time to leave. Once again, Johnny silently approached me and delivered his hug. It was my opportunity to remind him how much I treasured him because he was so very special. In return, he smiled again and proceeded out the door.

Many teachers never have moments like these or they fail to recognize the gifts that they represent. But I am so very fortunate to be hugged. If he grows up to remember that at least one educator cherished him, I am luckier still. Shalom.

 

 

If I may assist you with any of your writing endeavors, it is my privilege to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Little things

There is something unique to the experience of traveling that elicits the best (and occasionally the worst) in people. Having recently completed three relatively short journeys, I had occasion to witness considerable travel behavior.

Somehow, the process of traveling provides the anonymity necessary to say or do whatever you like without fear of offending or injuring anyone who matters to you. This includes banging into others with your giant backpack, finding it acceptable to board whenever you like and spreading out across three seats in a crowded gate area.

On the upside, I also experienced numerous acts of pure kindness. Two service employees graciously assisted in relocating my suitcase with a sincere eagerness to help. And a complete stranger offered to lift my bag from the baggage claim carousel after noticing my anxiety associated with claiming it.

While airline, airport and car rental personnel are charged with the task of assisting travelers, the methods by which that care is delivered can vary significantly. Happily, most of the service I received was courteous and freely dispatched.

In spite of or maybe because of the fact that you will never again see the people you encounter, I make it a priority to be a helpful, personable colleague. This involves smiling at most people, quickly offering information when asked and liberally offering a seat when I believe that one is needed. Travel is often stressful and it seems only fair to make a small contribution toward mitigating that stress.

My best guess is that none of what I do will be remembered for more than a minute or two after the event, a reality that doesn’t bother me at all. We all have the occasion to make minute enhancements to the lives of the people around us. If we choose to be nay-sayers or curmudgeons, we lose as much as the people whose days we could have brightened. Shalom.

 

If I may assist you with any of your writing endeavors, it is my privilege to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Terrible technology

Very often, I reflect on the simpler, less confusing days before we relied heavily on various forms of technology. It seems to me that while we appreciate the advantages of our miscellaneous devices, we sacrifice a naive type of simplicity.

Never was this clearer than when I left my cell phone in a doctor’s office on a Friday afternoon. To begin, I had no way to call and verify that they had it. Looking for a landline is probably a greater challenge than any of us realize. Once my daughter determined that the phone was there, I had to drive approximately two hours to retrieve it or not have a phone for the rest of the weekend.  Unfamiliar as I was with the area, I had my trusty GPS to get me there. Unfortunately, said GPS was programmed to avoid toll roads, the most expedient method of getting back to the office. And of course, I had no phone to call husband who could tell me how to defeat it.

For the sake of brevity, I’ll simply report that without benefit of a direct route, I made it to the doctor’s office, exactly two hours and considerable stress later. Had I not done so, my return flight would have been minus a phone, creating the need for it to be mailed to me.

Years ago, I would have saved a few hour round trip drive, a GPS struggle and the anxiety of determining how I would survive without my technology. At the same time, I would have been unable to reach loved ones, send text messages, check weather forecasts and waste countless minutes on social media.

There is no simple conclusion. The technology is inevitable, as is my inability to juggle all devices without leaving one, drowning another and failing to understand one or two others.

Yes, we rely too heavily on our technical toys. But returning to those days when we didn’t have them is simply not a reasonable alternative. The best idea is to know where everything is at every moment. No problem. Shalom.

 

If I may assist you with any of your writing endeavors, it is my privilege to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com.

 

 

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Moments

A student made me cry yesterday. He didn’t insult, harass, kick, slap or otherwise hurt me but he managed to touch me in a place that I didn’t know I had or with which I had somehow lost contact.

From our earliest contact, he found ways to seek my approval or attention. If we were doing an art project, he would bring each step of his drawing to me for my review. When students had to line up for lunch or the end of the day, he stood quietly, making certain that I saw his perfect stature.

But as six or eight students created notes or drawings to bring me as tokens of their thanks, he approached with a tiny eraser and handed it to me. My best guess is that he felt his drawing/creativity skills were insufficient. He said, “This is for you – it smells good.” And I took the eraser and sniffed it, appreciating and cherishing its aroma, in spite of the fact that I lost my sense of smell many years ago.

At the end of our time together, he found his way to my desk and said, “Thank you so much for being here. You are a wonderful teacher and I am so glad that you came today.” We’re not allowed to hug students (per the personnel handbook) but he was hugged anyway. And looking him in the eyes, I replied, “Thank you for being the most wonderful student I could ever imagine. You are a terrific young man and I know that you will be great at whatever you do.”

He continued to smile at me and wistfully said goodbye. Taking him aside, I whispered, “I’m not supposed to have favorite students but know that you are.” His smile fully confirmed his reaction,.

My tears ensued when I left him and the building and entered my car.

As educators, the gifts we receive are hard fought and seldom acquired. This second grader was my indescribable blessing – someone who could sense that I valued his kindness, determination and sweet soul. If ever I have reason to wonder why I am in the classroom, all I will need to do is remember him. Shalom.

 

 

 

If I may assist you with any of your writing endeavors, it is my pleasure to do so. You may reach me at csbutts19@yahoo.com.