Well… Oops: On Resolutions and Resolving to Remember That I Made a Couple

A couple of days ago a friend and I discussed New Year’s resolutions. She opted for doing monthly challenges in lieu of one year long goal. For example, one month she will drink water only, another read at least one piece of non-required reading a day (she’s a college student), and another eat at least one fruit and one vegetable a day (with the amendment that French fries don’t count). I recalled another friend’s resolution to explore more cultural events in the city where we live, and she followed it up by attending the opening night gala of the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit at one of our museums. All worthy goals for self-improvement and growth.

The resolution ball was lobbed into my court when she asked me if I had made any resolutions. Breezily I replied that NO I hadn’t. In fact, my winter break found me with a strong dose of the doldrums and a strong desire to be left alone and become one with my pajamas. Resolutions, frankly, seemed, as my students say, “doin’ too much.” Resolutions imply hope, betterment, and action; all three were not on my periphery. Everything at that moment took an inordinate amount of energy. My resolution at first was to do nothing.

But it occurred to me that I did resolve to do something. I had made two resolutions, easy ones I thought.

1. Re-read all of Jane Austen’s novels.

2. Write one blog post a month.

Reading Austen’s work is easy. I love reading. I love Austen. And since Pride and Prejudice is my favorite novel to teach, I felt that I needed a stronger command of Austen’s oeuvre. This resolution began with re-reading my least favorite if her works, Mansfield Park. The horror! The horror! It felt like reading a precursor to Dickens novels, but kudos to Fanny Price for not compromising her beliefs. But more on this later (as in later later).

Writing one blog post a month should have been easy, but here we are on the homestretch of March, and I am finally writing my first one of the year (and I’m not sure that I am actually saying anything in it). It helps if I have something to say, and starting this year as a wannabe recluse did not bode well for writing and putting my thoughts out there. The universe, however, is in cahoots with the blogging world as one of my readers, out of nowhere, commented on an old post of mine encouraging me to write more. Then another fellow blogger, who had also been MIA, resurfaced and started blogging again. She wrote about how some of her blogging friends have not been writing, how they should, and that “you know who you are.” Guiltily, I realized that I was one of them. So if writing is expressive and creative and a way to get one out of one’s head, and if resolutions are for hope, betterment, and action, it is quite possibly one of the healthiest choices that I can make this year.

Here it is: one down, eleven more to go.

Readers, what resolutions did you make for 2015? Are you keeping them or are they a faded memory?

I Want To Write, But It’s Never The Write Time!

I miss blogging and writing and the freedom of expression. I miss reflecting on my day and thinking of moments to share that were meaningful to me and hopefully to others. I miss the community forged with other writers– those who care about their craft and motivated by having something to say. But I’ve fallen for the cult of busy-ness. I am always busy. My life style as of now does not support the goals of a semi-aspiring writer. In order to write at the level I wish, I need time and dedication to produce they kind of writing I of which I can be proud. If someone is kind enough to leave a comment, I want to have the time to respond. Because if I’m going to do something, I want to do it well.

Everyday I think about writing, but again, I let the moment flit away. What to do?

Well, there’s only one solution: just do it. Just sit down and write.

Across The Blogiverse

When I started this blog back in March, I really had no idea what to expect.  I imagined that it would involve me writing my thoughts, hitting “publish”, and catapulting them into the ether where they would float around whatever the internet is.  Are my thoughts tightly crammed in fiber-optic cables trying to not bump into someone else’s thoughts like they’re on a New York subway?  Or is there a grand universe for our thoughts or are they “flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup?”  Wherever they are, they found readers.

It’s the readers that I didn’t really contemplate as I began my blogging journey, mostly becuase I wasn’t sure if I’d have any.  I wrote for “a” reader, meaning that I wanted everything I wrote to have a point; it couldn’t be “just because”.  Each post had (as still  has) to be a unit with a beginning, middle, and end, so whoever reads it would get a complete story or at least a reflection.  This was my M.O. for a while until something odd happened: people started to follow me and I had regular readers.  My random unspecified reader turned into an audience– an audience that I could get to know. I read their blogs, hit their follow buttons, and commented on their posts.  Before I knew it, I was transported into different worlds: India, Pakistan, Ireland, Spain, England, Australia, Canada, Arizona, and even to different parts of my neck of the woods.  I learned about different life experiences and ways of thinking, and found a whole troupe of funny, talented, intelligent writers. Everyone has a story to tell.

Two things happened that I didn’t expect from my readers.  One is the amount of my non-blogging friends who follow me.  Many read my posts through Facebook, and others opted to follow me and have my posts sent to their email.  I know that we are all busy and lead hectic lives, and the fact that they make time to read what I write is humbling.  My audience is not made up of anonymous faces, but of people who I admire and people who have their own amazing stories to tell. The second thing I didn’t expect was how many of my  blogging audience I consider as friends.  Even though I’ve never met any of you, I feel that I know you– well at least the “you” you present on your blog.  I look out for your posts, eager to hear about what’s going on in your life or what new idea you’re going to discuss. Reading your work is part of my day.  I didn’t expect the openness of the blog community, but I am glad I found you.  Thank you.

Readers:  What aspect of blogging surprised you?  How is blogging different from how you thought it would be?

When Creativity Speaks

A recent episode of PBS’s History Detectives featured a woman who wanted to know about the man who drew a picture of her father Bill when he was in a Nazi POW camp during WWII.  She wondered who he was, if he survived, and if he went on to become an artist.  What emerged was an interesting glimpse into wartime suffering, community, and humanity.  Many of the American soldiers held in this camp, located in Austria, had been shot down over France and Germany and were cut off from everyone they knew and all ties back home.  As one can imagine, life was tough there, and it was only through the Geneva Conventions and assistance of the Red Cross, that these soldiers received the little they did.  There were over two hundred men to a barrack, and these were reminiscent of the barracks used in concentrations camps: close quarters, no privacy and wooden pallets for sleeping.  The food was chopped rutabaga, gruel, and bread made mostly of sawdust.  The survivors of the camp recalled how easy it was to forget who they were there.

To combat the forgetting, the men turned to creativity and to each other.  Most were strangers, but they created a community for survival.  They wrote poems and stories.  They put on a Christmas review full of carols, an reenactment of The Christmas Carol, and skits.  They put on other performances, and, of course, they drew.  Bill had traded cigarettes for two onions and a potato with a Russian POW when he met “Gil” Rhoden.  Rhoden offered to draw his picture in exchange for the food.  Bill thought, “I can eat these, but still be hungry.  Or I can give them to him and have something to show for it.”  The result was an excellent pencil sketch of Bill looking healthy, clean, and handsome– an image of the way he was before entering the camp.  Bill looked at the picture throughout his captivity as a reminder to who he was and could be again.

Rhoden, it turns out, survived the camp, too, and went on to become very successful.  He passed away in a plane crash in 1989, but the history detective was able to locate his son and show him the picture.  The son was overcome with emotion as he looked at the sketch. “It’s like shaking my father’s hand again,” he said.  He and Bill had the chance to meet and share stories about Rhoden and life since the camps.

This story of two men and survival is simply beyond words.  Rhoden drew for sustenance and his drawing gave Bill hope.  Bill’s sharing of his picture with Rhoden’s son, allowed the son to reconnect to his father.  This episode serves as a reminder how we never know the impact that we have on others.  Our smallest or most routine actions can mean so much to someone else.  It also shows that even though we can be in the most dire of situations and cruelest of fates, we can seek solace and strength in our humanity.  The men turned to things that were personal and could be shared or created a shared experience.  They sought that which was good.

This story coincided with some thoughts that have been swirling around in my brain of late– the community of bloggers.  Granted, bloggers are not POWs in a Nazi prison camp.  But we do seek connections to others and give each other hope.  We come from all walks of life as there are many blogs about teaching, books, writing, reading, music, motherhood, parenting, poetry, photography, art, mental illness, food, travel, gay rights, community issues, saving historical landmarks, and the list goes on.  Some commonalities that bloggers share is that they are all intelligent and highly educated; all have something to share.  Even though we are all different, we are all doing the best we can.  Together we share our stories and work and offer support and encouragement and new ideas.  By reading about other’s lives and thoughts, we gain wider empathy and insight into other perspectives, even if we do not agree.  In this time when so many things are uncertain, this is a nice community to be a part of.

Please Read This Post Before You “Like” It

I have a blogging bone to pick.  Recently I have had a rash of other bloggers liking my posts without reading them.  It’s pretty easy to spot them– I hit “publish” and within minutes I have 3 views and 5 likes– two did not read what I actually wrote, but hit the “Like” button on the reader page.  There are only three reasons bloggers do this:

1. They want to increase their readership through their “likes”.  It is common courtesy to check out someone’s blog after they “like” it and hopefully find something in their blog that is funny, inspiring, provoking, or strange to “like” back.  However, when it’s just rampant liking without reading– that’s just blatant attention-getting self-promotion.

2. Same as #1, but they have their ebook to sell.  More self-promotion.

3. They have no life and sit in front of the computer scanning the reader page and liking everything.

Why am I so annoyed?  I mean, really, having a bunch of likes on your post is impressive to other bloggers to see when they stop by.  It’s also really nice to get a “like”.  I am annoyed because it is empty, meaningless praise given for the sake of self-promotion.  I am annoyed because I spend a lot of time writing, as I’m sure you do, too, and someone is passing judgement on my work without even knowing, or taking the time to consider, what I wrote.   I am annoyed because when I go check out the “liker’s” blog, it is selling something.  I am annoyed because it is inauthentic and degrades the sense of community and sharing among bloggers.  I prefer an honest empty like space at the bottom of my post over a space full of “empty likes”.  If you like it, “like” it, but only then.

Whew!  I had to get that off my chest.  Those of you who honestly like my work, I know who you are and your support keeps me writing.  Thank you.

On the homefront: I had a good first day of school today.  My students seem nice, if a bit squirrely.  I think I am going to have a good term.


Does This Make Me A Twit?

My husband, after years of resistance, opened a Twitter account, and encouraged me to explore and use my own lonely account.  To help me along he added the app to me iPad and iPhone, and he got the little bird on the menu bar for the computer.  Thank you, sweetie.  I needed one more distraction.  Really.

Anywho– I am officially up and running on Twitter and even figured out how to put one of those follow button thingys on my blog, and I’m following Paul Krugman.  How cool is that?  So, come on, follow me.  And I’ll follow you.  If I’m going to go Twitter, I might as well go big.

Back In The Saddle Again: A Reflection Before The New School Year

School starts a week from today, and I’ve been so entrenched in vacation that I’ve forgotten that I have a job.  Today, for a shot in the arm, I went on campus to visit my classroom.  It was one of those weird sensations where everything familiar is unfamiliar, and it felt like I had been gone forever but never left.  Visiting my classroom before the start of school has a calming effect on me.  Everything is neatly stacked, cleaned, and the top of my desk is bare.  Of course, I dare not look into the cupboards for the chaos they contain– opening my pen drawer was scary enough– life hasn’t been the same since the TA who fastidiously organized my materials abandoned me graduated.  But it’s my home away from home and it all brought a smile to my face.

Students have told me that they can tell the strictness of a teacher by how the classroom is decorated.  My walls are colorful and covered with student work, Kandinsky posters, postcards from my travels, a view of Central Park, paper cranes, and of course, rubber ducks.  Excepting the standards posters, monthly calendar, and the class rules, my room puts me in the “push-over” category.  Since some students have described me as “strict”, “intimidating”,  “should not be underestimated”, and my personal favorite, “awfully scary for being such a little girl”, I think the push-over notion is quickly dispelled. (Their descriptions of me are funny, since I don’t see myself as particularly scary, nor do I know what I do that causes this image.)  I do spend 9-10 hours a day in my room, and it is important that it is not only welcoming to my students, but also to me.

And at approximately 7:21 a.m. next Monday, my desk will be a total mess.  I have some colleagues whose rooms are always neat and tidy.  Everything is organized and labeled and filed away.  Their shelves sport perfectly lined and categorized binders– in which they find things!  The things they are looking for!  The tops of their desks are like women with fabulous bodies flaunting them at the beach.  My desk is the dowdy one wearing the cover up– not a speck of skin shows.  It hides under piles of paper that carry the implied message of “do not touch me, move me, add me to another pile, or otherwise disturb the order in which these papers are stacked!”.  If I need to find something from two weeks ago, it is most likely at the bottom of or the middle of one of those stacks, and I normally know which stack it is in.  Filing and organizing are foreign to me, and when I make my feeble attempts to do so, I end up creating five different folders for the same thing.  Every year I vow to become a better organizer, but I think I will forgo that aspiration this year.  I feel too disappointed in myself when I look at my desk.

There are bigger fish to fry.  For example, I have U.S. History– a class that I have never taught– this term.  While there is a lot about the textbook I like, it is pretty over-whelming and, frankly, dull.  Was my textbook in high school this boring or have I just been spoiled from reading David McCullough and Erik Larson?  Creative lessons that are fun and engaging need to be developed– otherwise my kids and I will be hating life and history, and that’s not the point.  Then there’s the cross purpose of the pacing guide and the format of my class.  The pacing guide suggests a brief review of the founding of our country through the Civil War, and the meat of the class really begins at Reconstruction (because the students learn about all of this in the 8th grade, and are expected to remember it all in the 11th).  My class is a cohort class that I will keep in the spring to teach them American Literature– by giving me both classes with the same students allows me to teach cross-curricularly.  However, American Lit begins with Native American creation myths and thoroughly delves into the Puritans, the Revolution, the Transcendentalists.  The class is basically halfway over before we even touch the Civil War.  So something’s got to give.

My biggest fish is one that I think all teachers struggle with: striking a good work-life balance.  There’s a lot of stuff I like to do, like blogging, reading, cooking, and visiting with friends.  Then there’s stuff I need to do: work-out, laundry, chores, grocery shop, sleep, shower.  My day begins at 3:45 and I normally get to work by 6:20.  Even thought class starts at 7:20, I’ve never been the type who can roll out bed and into work at the last minute.  The school day ends at 2:20, and then I stay after school for Book Club, Academic Decathlon, and HOSA (Health Occupation Students of America).  I normally leave at 4:00 and get home by 5:00.  That leaves four hours for reading, writing, grading, making dinner, eating dinner, working out, spending time with the hubby, and playing with the cats.  Lights out at 9:00.  Then I think of people who have equally busy schedules and children, and the thought is too over-whelming to consider.

So how does one juggle all of this without being the one juggled?  It really comes down to priorities: what is going to keep me healthy, happy, and sane until next May?  What can go and what can stay?  Working out is a must.  It releases any aggression, keeps me energized, and helps me stay happy.  I can always tell when I start slacking off.  Reading is a must.  It transports me to other worlds and reminds me how language is supposed to be used.  As for cooking, it is very easy to slip into making easy meals that don’t offer much in the way of health.  I’m going to continue menu planning and keeping an eye out for healthy recipes and do most of the prep work on the weekends.  The slow cooker will also be put to use for leftovers that can be frozen and reheated on nights when I really don’t want to cook.  As for blogging, each post takes a lot of time.  I will scale back to a post every other day or two-three times a week.  One thing I’ve learned is that I put a lot of pressure on myself, and much of this pressure doesn’t need to exist.  I push myself hard, I push my students hard, and what I really need to do is focus on what really needs to get done.  What do I really need to do?  What do my students really need to do?  How can I get the most of me and them without running either of us ragged?

We will see what this school year brings.

This Is Outstanding!

There are many bloggers that I admire (most likely you’re one of them).  These bloggers constantly bring their unique perspectives on life, their quirky sense of humor, and their genuine talents to the forefront everyday.  I read a lot of posts that I wish I wrote and many issues that I wish I had thought of.  All of you are pretty awesome in your own way, and I look forward to your posts everyday.

Seventhvoice, a mother of two from Australia who posts both articles and poetry about fairness, equality, and most importantly, what it’s like to be a parent of a child with autism, recently selected me to receive the Outstanding Blogger Award.  I don’t think I can convey how special this made me feel.  For one, I have a great amount of respect for her– for sharing her struggles and bringing issues that confront her community and country to light.  Autism can be a divisive topic since its cause is unknown and everyone has a different idea how it should be treated; she handles this subject with grace.  Also, the rules for accepting this award are to nominate five others who “show intellect and a sense of confidence in the subject for which they are blogging about WITHOUT going way over the heads of those us who need things said in layman’s terms.”  The fact that she considers my blog worthy of being part of that five blows me away.

The rules for accepting this award are to nominate 5 others to receive it and add one important piece of information they feel is important to us on their post.  So without further ado:

silverpoetry for creating contemplative and amazing poems

Broadside for writing about a myriad of social issues and what it means to be a “grown up”

as long as i’m singing for writing about life and providing creative pieces that offer a different perspective

truthlets & thought bits for sharing her unique perspectives on life and being honest

Romancing the Bee for sharing everything one needs to know about raising bees and making it interesting.  Lots of recipes and travel photos, too.

I have two honorable mentions.  The following do not accept awards, so I am not giving them one, just plain old recognition.  Both share poetry and creative pieces and are fun to read.

My Word Your Ear.com

Crazy Life…

Please check them out if you haven’t already!  Again, thank you, Seventhvoice, for the nomination.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Movement

Hungry goose coming through!

Recently when I was in London, I took a “detour” through St. James’s Park.  It’s an idyllic place with a pond full of ducks, geese, and swans.  Nearby was an elderly woman who carried a big plastic bag of bread.  She’d rip the bread apart and toss it in front of the birds. Needless to say, it was a feeding frenzy.  When I saw that this week’s photo challenge was movement, I thought of this little guy and his foot that is just a blur.  With his honking, pushing, and shoving, he proved that he was the hungriest of them all.

He ran right out of my picture!

100 Posts And A Three Month Anniversary?! Am I Still A Newbie?

For someone who started a blog on a whim, this has been pretty incredible.  This is my 100th post and my three month anniversary.  I wondered if I would last this long or have this much to say.  What surprises me more is all of you who read my work and keep coming back.  Without all of you this whole endeavor would be no fun at all.  I appreciate your feedback, support, and comments, and I look forward to them with each post (my husband can attest to this).  So thank you for making this obsession hobby such a pleasure– without you I wouldn’t have stuck with it.

Blogging has had a big impact on my life.  For one, I haven’t written this much since grad school.  Even though I have done a lot of writing in my life, blogging has made me think like a writer and pay attention to how others write.  It has made me more observant of human behavior, my reaction to things, and stuff that might be blogworthy.  It has taught me a lot about technology as I overcame my fear of linking (seriously).  Now I have an iPad and a wireless keyboard, so I can blog everywhere.  I even care about Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.   I have also worried less and have been more positive in my outlook.

The blogging community here at WP has been awesome.  I’ve learned more about life and living through all of you.  Even though we are so different, we share the same experiences, joys, frustrations.  It’s nice to know that I am not alone.   Through everyone’s pictures I’ve been introduced to places and ideas I never knew existed. Blogging allows all of us to go beyond the scope of our everyday existence.

My goals for my next three months and hundred posts (if I did it once, I can do it again) are to stick with the parameters I set for myself on day one.  They are that I stay true to me; be positive in my posts (with the exception of Reno); and that each post is resolved and has a purpose.

So thank you again for giving me something to write for.  I’d like to hear from you:  what feedback or comments do you have to help me make these next three months blog-tastic?