Thursday, March 19, 2020

Words For 2020: #3 Write

When I was in college about a hundred years ago (actually, I graduated from undergrad in 1981), my professor in Classroom Methods was like so many back then--hopelessly out of touch. The guy hadn't been in a highschool classroom in decades. He didn't teach us much of anything at all that was of Value. It was a lot of Sixties stuff, like Rap Sessions and Creative Listening and junk that bordered on Being A Mime. He drove us all nuts because we knew it was crazy, this hippie crap, and that if we even attempted it, those teenagers would tear us apart.

Little did I know that school systems everywhere were already wrenching their English programs into the far less demanding-sounding course called Language Arts, and embracing things called Whole Language, Sight Reading, and for the upper grades, Journal Writing. By the time I was in an English classroom teaching five classes of sophomores, Journal Writing was a Thing, and we had to make them do it at least once a week. We had to come up with a topic, give them classroom time, and give them credit. At our department meeting we all griped about the prospect of grading these journals. Merely lugging them around was bad enough, but do the math: the sheer volume of grading was staggering and downright punitive. All of us lamented our college majors; why hadn't we chosen phys ed or art? Or music?

Several veteran teachers shrugged and admitted they didn't read them at all. They marked them with a check and gave a grade for completion. Others said they read only a select few and graded those. Others said they told the students to choose their best three for grading and if they didn't complete all the entries, oh well, they simply had fewer to choose from. A few rebels admitted to me that they refused to give journal work to their kids; they thought it was stupid and a time-waster for everyone involved.

I have to admit--I eventually became one of those rebels. And it didn't take too long, either.

Let me explain why.

I value Writing. I value it highly. Good Writing or Writing with purpose means a great deal to me. No one should disrespect someone's Writing. If a student is going to be asked to Write, then that Writing should be read. At the very least, it should be read and reacted to. The idea of someone sitting there, flipping pages of student Writing, making checkmarks on it, bothered me. That Writing represented that student's thoughts. It's like ignoring that student and saying his time or her thoughts were inconsequential.

(It also bothers me when kids are punished by Writing sentences. All that does is teach kids to hate Writing. Please don't make learning or self-expression a vehicle for punishment.)

Writing is my preferred method of communication almost always. Even though I was a verbal communicator/teacher (and a good one) for thirty years, I still prefer Writing. It gives me time to think, to unwind my thoughts, to pick the best words, to organize my ideas, and to refine everything I want to say.

I don't hate Journals, either. I keep one semi-daily. I Write in it at about the same time, a time set aside specifically for Writing. (And I use a certain kind of pen because I need a gliding pen, not one that blots or scratches.) I pick it up, Write the date, and just start in. It is private, very personal, and in it I can sort out all kinds of thoughts and ideas I want to untangle. I can celebrate in it; I can bitch in it; I can mourn in it. In short, I can be myself in it, unedited. I keep the previous pages of the Journal under a rubber band so that I don't go back and read them, and I never go back to previous Journals, either. Why go back to the Past? If I'm near a dollar store, I grab a few cheap little Journals in there, and that's what I use. Nothing fancy. And, believe it or not, I don't worry about my punctuation as I'm Writing in my Journal. It looks a lot like Emily Dickinson in there with all the dashes. It's very liberating.

Back in January I decided to try harder to Write here more often. That is still my intention. So, for 2020 and beyond, Write is one of my Words.


Thursday, March 12, 2020

Words For 2020: #2 Meditate/Reflect

It's my habit to park in a space distant from the entrance at the grocery store. It gives me a little more exercise, and I don't have to worry about finding a place to park or some distracted driver backing out and hitting me. Today, however, I had no choice; those were the only spots left. As I pulled in, the woman in front of me, whose hatch was facing me, was unloading a cart full of Kleenex boxes. I'd guess she had at least fifteen single boxes, and she was tossing them into the back of her car with a grim face.

In no way was I prepared for what I walked into. People were steering carts that were overflowing. The line at the deli was across the length of counter and three customers deep. I checked my list and tried to pick up a little speed. I was starting to feel tense and uncomfortable.

"Attention shoppers. We apologize, but we've just received the following instructions from our corporate office and must place limits on the following items. Isopropyl alcohol 70% to 90%, one bottle per customer. Bleach, one bottle per customer. Sanitizing wipes containing antibacterial or bleach..." and I stopped listening. I started to feel like I was in a Stephen King novel--like The Stand. Stores had been out of hand sanitizer for days and days now. (Even though every single healthcare professional has said that washing your hands was far more effective, there has not been a run on soap.)

I finished my shopping--and encountered several hastily made signs listing the limited products once I got to the cleaning supplies aisle--and realized that I was starting to feel panicky and almost sick. Another announcement was added, this one apologizing for the long checkout lines.

They weren't kidding. Part of the reason was that many people had two carts. I looked down at my cart and wondered again if I was being foolish for not stocking up. I keep a pretty good pantry and freezer as it is, but who knows? The governor has shut down schools for three weeks beginning on Monday. All shows, sporting events, and large expositions (Sam's Piston Powered Show this weekend!) are cancelled. I could feel this struggle begin welling up in me, this fight against the surreal.

I couldn't wait to get home. I needed a walk and some time to decompress and breathe. And then I needed to Meditate and Reflect.

Walking helps a great deal. The physical activity, the reconnection with Nature, the breathing of fresh air--all of that recenters me and grounds me again. But I also need some time for Meditation/Reflection. I use that quiet time to check in with myself and relax my tension. I'm not a Traditional Meditator in that I don't sit cross-legged or use a mantra or any accoutrements. I don't get all jazzed about Clearing All Thoughts From My Mind or all that. For me, that's nearly impossible. I'm a Chain Thinker. One thought leads to another to another to another and pretty soon I'm thinking about the time many years ago that I forgot a bag of frozen peas in the car for like two weeks.

No, usually, I listen carefully to any sounds in my environment and/or my breathing. If a thought comes in, I go ahead and think it. If a thought endangers my Zen, I just give it the Scarlett O'Hara--"I'll think about that tomorrow." Today, my stomach growled a lot while I was Meditating and Reflecting. It made me laugh, which I really needed. I Reflect a great deal on how grateful I am; how so many things in my life are Good; how many things I have to look forward to. And I make sure I take an inventory of how I've been doing that day: how do I feel? what did I accomplish? am I tensed up anyplace?

Some days I can take my time; other days I do a shorter version. Some busy days, this is actually done in bed! For me, Meditation/Reflection is some important Me Work. And I feel like I'm worth the effort.

So in 2020 and beyond, Meditate/Reflect are two of my Words.

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Wednesday, March 04, 2020

Words For 2020: #1 Walk

While on my Walk today, I met Sophie, a little Italian Greyhound. She was sniffing quite meaningfully around a tree lawn, and I slowed my pace considerably so that I wouldn't disturb her. Unfortunately, just as she was settling in for some Quality Time, she caught sight of me and sprang up, skittish and barking. I stopped altogether, abashed.

"She's fine; come on ahead!" yelled Sophie's pet parent, waving a mittened hand. "Sophie! Stop! Enough!"

"I'm sorry," I said as I neared them. "I didn't want to...disturb her."

"Well, I'm sorry she's being such a loudmouth. Sophie, stop being such a loudmouth!"

We exchanged a few pleasantries, and I went on my way. I love that part of my Walk--meeting a new person in the neighborhood. That I also got to meet a new dog was a bonus. That she was a cute loudmouth, even better.

My Walk makes me deeply satisfied. I purposely don't vary my route much at all. I enjoy watching the small changes daily, weekly, monthly, and seasonally. I like to see the evolution of my neighborhood and notice little things as I pace off my miles.

Today--aside from meeting Sophie and her pet parent--I was happy to see a wide sunny carpet of winter aconite brightening up someone's front lawn. On the street where nine impossibly large outdoor cats lounge on varying porches and front walks, only two were to be seen, yawning and grooming. Daffodil and narcissus fronds were poking several inches above the soil already! Behind a tent-like structure made of plastic sheeting, work was finally, actually being done on the dilapidated front porch of a run-down house. (Rick and I make fun of this project all the time; it has been ongoing for a year, done entirely by one guy who shows up about once a month. At one point, he inexplicably hung kitchen pots on the porch roof. We theorized that they were to hold nails or small tools. The whole thing is ridiculous.)

I was miffed to note how many homes still have Christmas decorations up, but it was a small thorn in my side. I listened to some raucous birds and looked up to find them. It was two red-bellied woodpeckers flashing wings and pursuing each other. A little further down the block were several robins bobbing in a big corner yard, with a pair of bluejays watching above, screeching. Cardinals were also in the yard, a male and female, and I started allowing myself--just a little--to think about Spring.

On my way back home, my visit with Sophie cost me. Just as I turned down my street, it began to rain. I had it timed perfectly according to my weather app, but hadn't planned on loitering. I didn't care too much. As my husband's grandfather used to say, "It only soaks through to the skin." And I wasn't too far from home.

It feels good to Walk, to breathe fresh air, to feel my legs stretch out, to feel my feet push against the pavement, moving it away. It's relaxing and invigorating at the same time for me. It's therapeutic.

As a child I was overweight and often sick. I didn't play sports and I was not athletic. I might have tried, but I didn't want to risk humiliation. There were a few things I could do, and one of those was to take Walks. My father used to take us on long, long Walks he called Nature Walks (more about those in another post). I also had a paper route for a few years that I walked every single day (which helped end my weight problem). I walked to school in elementary school and high school, and, in good weather, home from junior high. When I think back, Walks have generally been a positive part of my life.

And yes, I do have some residual fear from having fallen twice. (Probably more than even Rick, Jared, or Sam has!) My first Walk by myself after my second fall was scary. I know I'm careful and that has to be enough.

So, in 2020 and beyond, Walk is one of my Words.

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