Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Check your sources

Several weeks ago, I ordered a book written by the famous author and storyteller, Sholom Aleichem. If that name doesn’t ring a bell, think of Fiddler on the Roof and you are in the right space. The book that I acquired was a collection of Aleichem’s stories that were expansions of the Fiddler tale and it is filled with wisdom, suggestions and quite a bit more.

As you might expect, the stories center around Tevye, the central and arguably most memorable character in the famous play and movie. But Tevye is a man worth knowing for many reasons. He is forthright about being of humble means  – he works hard for a living and often worries about his finances. This status is likely exacerbated by the fact that he describes his wife as not very smart and they share seven daughters.

Here’s what I value most about Tevye, other than his unabashed and unending dedication to his wife and family. Tevye believes that a man is incapable of being believed unless he liberally quotes the Torah (the Bible or Old Testament), the Talmud (explanatory/descriptive commentaries on the Bible) and Rashi, a well-known and highly respected French Biblical scholar.

My best guess is that most of us don’t use these as resources for the majority of work that we create, share or publish. But there is a message that I truly appreciate. If you are going to make a statement or take a position, make certain that your sources/resources are entirely credible and legitimate. Although you may never use religious texts as sources for your work, Tevye doesn’t think that you can do any better.

Life was quite a bit simpler in Tevye’s time, as he drove his horse and wagon to town to sell his milk, cheese and eggs. But the logic is impeccable and irrefutable. If I am receiving my guidelines from God, I cannot imagine anyone who would be so bold as to doubt my credentials. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Fiction

Because I’m hard at work on my first novel, I’ve had reason to spend some of my time on the differences between fiction and non-fiction. All of my previous work – books, blogs and miscellaneous editorial assignments – has been non-fiction. An easy distinction is to differentiate events that actually occurred versus those that were created. Whether it is the subject matter or a new set of discoveries, I am finding that there is more fact to fiction than I previously believed.

Let me provide an example. There are four major characters in my novel that takes place primarily in Poland during World War II. They are characters defined by extraordinary accomplishments and they overcome obstacles that few of us who are alive can imagine.

Although I develop their characters within the plot I have constructed, I now prefer to think of these characterizations as biographies. Yes, I realize that biographies require subjects who are alive or have been at some time in the past. But it’s much more gratifying, historically and authorially, to depict players in my book who could very well have existed. And if my purpose (at least one of them) is to commemorate and honor those deserving of recognition, why not believe that they existed at some time, whether or not in the geography of my novel?

As I run through the catalog of the literary works that I’ve digested, I subject that many included persons or occurrences that were actual components of these authors’ lives. In The Great Gatsby, (one of my favorite books) for instance, Fitzgerald generously alludes to parties that he had attended in Long Island, NY. Through those experiences, Fitzgerald intricately relates the greed, frivolity and corruption – all traces of reality that typified the Roaring Twenties of the US.

Because I’m also a fan of Stephen King, it may represent a more formidable exercise to find truth in his numerous creations. At the same time, King is fastidious about detail and I suspect that his work is founded in history and embellished by his incredible imagination.

No, I’m not positing that true fiction is impossible (or fictional, if you like). I’m simply suggesting that any decision regarding the genre of literary work may be a little blurrier than it may initially seem. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Feeding brains

What would you expect a class of first graders to do when they are placed in a tech class filled with personal computers? Most of my reactions were surprises because I must have been out of touch with first grade tech sophistication.

Do you think they would be doing nursery rhymes or the inevitable children’s books such as Dr. Seuss? That would be incorrect. How about children’s games or puzzles? Once again, that’s incorrect.

One expectation was that a few students would have difficulty logging into the computers. Happily, I was a little correct. A few students (mostly girls) had difficulties with log-ins and site access. Just to be fair, a number of boys had some challenges as well.

The rest of my expectations were serious misplaced. One student was watching the construction of a video game control. One was walking around the tech classroom, helping fellow students log on and visit the sites they chose. Most of the rest were doing math games or similar educational pursuits. This may be because they understood the consequences of doing otherwise. Or it may be (we hope) an example of the quest for knowledge.

Happily, kids are equally excited to visit the library, the art class or the music room as they are tech. This may be because all exposures to knowledge and experience are desirable. As I must remind myself daily, most of my kids have only a fraction of what they ultimately need to know. They treat the process of being in tech as they do reading of a book.

Because tech was never part of my own educational development, I have no memories that replicate those of my first graders. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Some of us naturally excelled in math while others of us wrote dazzling essays. Everything in between is good, from algebra to zoology. Our most important mission, whether it’s hands on a keyboard or listening to percussion, is to instill an enduring love for learning in all shapes, colors and sizes. Shalom.

 

 

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Nobility

One of the many lessons I’ve learned in the classroom is the power of helpers. Every day that I teach, I have one or two or more students who immediately present themselves for designation as my assistants.

This doesn’t include having them teach or enforce discipline. In some cases, I have the rules of enforcement squad who will work toward establishing order. The jobs they complete include such tasks as line leader, attendance sheet runners and IT helpers who are adept at in-class technology.

What’s magical, however, is what happens to kids once they are able to help. The rowdiest of children become docile and pleasant when they are instructed to be role models. This translates to words such as “leaders” or “captains” or “assistants.”

And those students who are always helpers will remind me whenever I see them of their elevated status. In some ways, this dynamic is no different than the rest of life. Some of seek to be better, smarter, more successful, wealthier, happier or some other advanced position. Some don’t, I realize, and unless I am instructing them and they are in my space, I have no jurisdiction. It’s very rare, inside or outside the classroom, that we encounter those who aspire to mediocrity.

Often I wonder what part of our brains is responsible for distinction. Is there a genetic, still small voice that urges us to do more and improve? If that’s the case, where is that voice in the case of under-achievers and criminals?

My best guess is that there will always be that student who wants to occupy a noble distinction. As an educator, my job is to remind students that they all have the potential to do or be whatever they choose. If enabling them as helpers contributes to that growth, I have succeeded at establishing the first step.

Friday was popcorn day and my sweetest, most devoted pupil rushes to advise that he left his popcorn money in class when he left for recess. After I confirmed that he didn’t need any popcorn money, I escorted him to the classroom. He thanked me profusely and ran to secure his treasure. Ten minutes later, he returned from the popcorn vendor, walked up to me and wordlessly handed me one of his two bags of popcorn. Somehow, I think I must have done something right. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Gathering rosebuds

If gathering rosebuds doesn’t sound familiar, I invoked the first line in a poem by 17th century poet Robert Herrick. He suggests, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,” in addition to other important wisdom.

Several times per week, I spend some time wondering how much time I spend doing things that are entirely frugal or sensible. These activities are the result of many years of needing to save money, simply because there was no choice.

It now occurs to me that I do many of these out of habit rather than necessity. This process takes many forms. When I get close to the end of any of the cosmetic or cleaning items that I use, I always transfer the last few inches or ounces to another bottle of the same product, rather than lose a few days of use. In the kitchen, I will perform the same type of miserliness, using the last stalk of celery or last mushroom when those items may have been more properly discarded.

This is a lesson in the fragility of life and the imperative to live each day as it is made available. There is no secret to the reality that I have already spent more years on earth than I likely have in my future. And so, it seems to be time to enjoy my life with greater freedom rather than by maintaining unnecessary habits.

Translated into everyday life, if I want to buy a pair of shoes that are not within my normal guidelines for work or weekends, I buy them. If I want to add a few blue streaks into my hair, I do so. and if I feel like buying a brand new flavor of coffee to try, I buy it.

Make no mistake. By no means am I suggesting that you abandon everything that resembles care and conscience, spending money recklessly. My bills are paid and my responsibilities are all satisfied. But I firmly believe that without sounding morbid, I must do what makes me happy while I still have a clear mind and the resources to do so. Tomorrows are guaranteed to no-one and I am living life as if today is the last one, just in case that may be true.

Or in the words of Mr. Herrick,  And this same flower that smiles today, Tomorrow will be dying. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

$5 magic

Those of us who spend all of our time in adulthood sometimes forget how much fun magic can be. Mine came totally without warning and now that I have experienced it, I can begin orchestrating the next event.

The setting was fourth grade. While I normally avoid grades beyond third, it occurred to me that it was a good way to begin spring break. At this point I have no doubt about revisiting fourth.

Not surprisingly, my new school district presented me with a collection of twenty-seven courteous, sweet, intelligent young people. They offered help, direction and a gratifying amount of appreciation.

Here’s where the magic began. As usual, I brought my Magic Substitute Bag that is filled with candy, stickers and pencils. The first student who saw me remove a bag of pencils timidly requested one. It was all over.

One by one, they presented themselves at my desk. How could I give one pencil to a child and say no to twenty-six others? Fortunately, I had enough reserves. Giving out pencils and a few pens was not the magic. It was the behavior that followed.

You’re the greatest teacher I’ve ever had.

You’re the greatest substitute I’ve ever had.

Can you be our regular teacher?

Can you always be our substitute?

Why did you do this for us?

For the rest of the day, I observed twenty-seven writers closely guarding the pens and pencils that had just appeared out of nowhere. We are so accustomed to having to earn something or beg for something or trade for something. Is it so strange to be given a gift simply because I could give it?

It was a $5 investment for fifty mechanical pencils. There’s no doubt that I’ve spent a great deal more on quite a bit less, in terms of creating happiness for anyone including me. In this case, the good feelings were all throughout the room, with punctuation marks in lead and ink. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Words and words

The other day, I was exhilarated to find a book in my mailbox that my son had sent. He and his sister have unusual talents for finding gifts that are perfect in their taste and subject matter. This was no exception and the book was written by the former editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. From the first page, it was captivating and full of information that inspired me.

Within those first pages, I was surprised to find that the author used at least two words that I have deleted from my vocabulary – amongst and towards. While I understand that the British vocabulary frequently includes towards instead of toward, I find it to be a word that I prefer not to use. The same is true for amongst – I much prefer among and believed it to be the preferred version.

The dictionary that I use most often confirms that my choices are preferred and that in both cases, British English opts for the words that I don’t. But as I read and look forward to reading more, I had a flash of illumination that the English language isn’t one of right and wrong.

Those who know me also know that I am the one who reacts to “him and me went to the store” as if I were dealt 110 volts to the spine. In this one case and probably many others, we can legitimately posit correct and incorrect. Along those lines, I also believe that there is importance to good spelling, diction and tense. But beyond that, I realized through this editor that pronunciation and word selection aren’t subject to analysis and evaluation, mine or anyone else’s. If you want to pronounce “coyote” as ky-oh-tee while I pronounce it as ky-oat, neither of us should be subject to correction.

Nowhere have I been designated as the ultimate authority or ruling body as far as most issues concerning the English language. This exercise in amongst, towards and coyote have sufficiently driven that point home to me. If you ask me to correct your writing for whatever reason, that’s another story. But for now, help yourself to the words you want to use. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Pursuing and promoting

One of my common responses to students who ask the names of my books is that I don’t want to be accused of trying to sell said books in the school environment. Although it’s never happened and I don’t believe the likelihood is substantial, it’s an example of my reluctance to inappropriately self-promote.

With that in mind, I often ponder how much publication of my work is judicious and how much is excessive. There are no rules, no barometers, no panel of wise judges to issue directives. Very often I see people on social media or local publications who frequently display their services or products, often with the qualification that they are passionate about what they do. With that prevalent practice, why do I refrain from what I call shameless self-propagandizing?

Of course, it’s never a competition. Who’s published the most books, who has the most followers and who has the most clients? To me and every other writer I know, measuring success is quite individual and personal. As for how much publicity of my craft is enough and how much is too much, there are no lightning bolts of wisdom that are available.

Maybe its origins are from my childhood. From an early age, I was taught that it’s not “nice” to blow your own horn. That directive has never left me. But the other side of that is what may be insufficient clients or accolades for my writing. And who has the responsibility for that? My view of life prevents me from blaming the outside world. But if we don’t enjoy success, popularity or financial security, is it our fault for insufficient promotion?

Somewhere I read that there were well over one million books published in the year that I released mine. Looking at the statistics, very few make the New York Times bestseller list. Is anything short of that acceptable? It must be. When I ponder the reasons for which I wrote the book, none of them were financial or critical popularity.

Someone much wiser than I once said, “You get what you give” and I was content that I told my story as a collection of suggestions for life. Having accomplished that, it may simply be unfair to ask for more. Shalom.

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

What we see

When I was a tiny baby, my right arm produced a tumor and my parents elected to treat it with radiation. As a child, this disfiguration was difficult for me, causing me to explain its origin and take innumerable measures to conceal it. For many years, I worried about my potential for marriage, believing that an ugly arm would rule me out from any consideration. And if someone did want to marry me, it would require my cloaking myself in layers.

Many years later, I find myself being grateful that the radiation deleted the tumor, leaving me with the ability to use the arm as needed. More importantly, I received a lesson that most of our imperfections are invisible and unimportant to those who truly love us.

Now and then I see couples with partners who are handicapped, severely obese or disfigured in some way. But to observe them, they are oblivious to any of their partners’ conditions that render them less than perfect by any definition. By no means do I want to invoke the expression, “Love is blind,” because none of these lovers are blind to the appearance of their mates.

In some cases, companions retitle those conditions. One of my dear friends complained about having gained weight. Her husband, obvious in his devotion to her, dismissed the complaint, suggesting that, “There is more of her to love.” Yes, it appears to be true that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

As an educator, the appearance of any particular child is of no concern to me. In fact, those kids who are slower, disfigured, challenged or inhibited in some way are often more thoroughly beautiful than those who are active and typical. Happily, these special kids generally don’t limit or label themselves and I am a conspirator in making them feel that they are vital parts of the classroom community.

We have a powerful responsibility to delete any negativity from being different. Instead, this difference can be a distinction or designation of excellence as it removes the special person from mediocrity. Ultimately, I wore the wedding dress that I wanted and have never seen another adult repelled by my unusual arm. Finding opportunities to deal with the character and soul on the inside must be the best alternative. Shalom.

 

 

Writing, author, books, editorial, philosophy, kindle

Giving

Being in a new city after living elsewhere for thirty years has its advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, it’s fun to find new restaurants, hiking trails and local shopping meccas. But on the minus part of the equation, it’s a bit strange to be somewhere where it’s extremely unlikely to encounter someone familiar.

That will change over time, I suppose. In the interim, I joined a local choral ensemble and was elated and surprised to discover that the process of becoming part of a venture was unusually satisfying. Seeking a common outcome and working toward that reality became enjoyable, both in the belonging and the active participation.

Last week, I experienced a similar gratification as I joined the local school system. Retirement is enjoyable and relaxing, but it was missing something that I wasn’t quite able to identify until last week. When I belong to an organization in which I believe, I am able to do what I call depositing positive energy into the universe.

Reading the news or watching it on television, we all become aware of the volunteers who champion one cause or another and dedicate hours, dollars and heart to that cause. Thanks to my recent commitments, I fully understand that being part of something honorable makes for a sense of community that is incomparable.

Some of the unhappiest people I’ve known were entirely self-absorbed and disassociated with everything. If I were a (full-time) counselor, my first recommendation to this profile is to get out and do something for someone or something else.

While I am compensated for my educating, that sum is entirely disproportionate to my passion. In my past, I committed the same enthusiasm on a purely volunteer basis. But as I grow into my new community, I hope to find valuable, lasting methods by which I can grow that environment.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, a great theologian and philosopher, once stated, “Knowledge – like the sky – is never private property. No teacher has a right to withhold it from anyone who asks for it. Teaching is the art of sharing.”

As we share with others, in the food bank, the shelter or the classroom, we give much more to ourselves. Shalom.