Maybe you have read all the good books in your house. Maybe you need a new perspective on teaching or on God. Maybe you just want to help me clean out my bookshelves. Please peruse this list/photo of books and let me know if you would like one or two or more. Feel free to Facebook message me or email me at email@example.com and we’ll work out someway for you to get them over to your bookshelf.
These are non-fiction sources that I’ve used for information, inspiration, and assistance over the years; each title is a link to an explanation and reviews of the book.
FYI: My new, header photo at the top of the page is from our garden. I like the clarity of the photo as well as how it alludes to an openness, a hopefulness. Photographer: me.
As a country, the United States of America is still in a rough draft, test stage. We are in the middle school years of our life. We like to think we are middle aged with some wisdom but I think not.
Our current president is an indicator. He leads like a head bully. He personifies this country’s lack of maturity. He’s always been the self-centered, fragile, macho teen bully that the other kids (senators) are afraid to defy. You remember the type from middle school; no one really approves of the guy but the group tolerates him…to a point.
Other ways we act like middle schoolers: too often, we make judgments about others without knowing much about the situation; we are curious, but not great listeners; depth is not our strength; we like to try on “adult” actions with little success; we don’t appreciate the wisdom of adults (older countries…or even historians).
In order to grow up, people generally need a wake up call. Some eye-opening moment that requires self-analysis, that begs for a change of behavior. If the country hasn’t been having wake up calls lately, I’m not sure what these have been. Between injustices and murders of Black people by our police forces to denial of climate change in light of increased forest fires and rising oceans to rampant disrespect of women to the way some can’t follow safety guidelines to (insert your examples here) things seem a bit out of control and juvenile these days.
Growing up does not mean becoming liberal or conservative. It does mean moving on from those juvenile qualities of our early days: it means doing more listening for understanding, more learning and less judging, being more confident and comfortable with who we are and less likely to take things personally.
Empathy should not be political. It’s a human skill. QAnon is not an example of empathy…it is juvenile, paranoid, ridiculous…and way too popular. There are signs that empathy is still alive and well in our country and lately I’ve been seeking them out.
I recently took part in my first Living Room Conversation (albeit virtual). These are structured ways to have civil conversations with people from a variety of political beliefs. Here are the ground rules …
I found the time to be a useful exercise in listening to others. Though there weren’t as many conservatives in the conversation in which I participated, we did talk a lot about people’s varying ideas about our core values like freedom, access to work, and rising to a challenge. Some spoke of how the promise of America is so different than the reality for most people. People from around the country shared notions of balancing our hyper individualism with interdependence and our high hopes with a lowering of expectations; how understanding and tolerance may be more reasonable goals for us.
Another resource that I happened on is a book called Beyond Your Bubble: How to Connect Across the Political Divide by Tania Israel. This book jumped out at me as I was dropping off a couple books at a Little Free Library near my house. Someone had left an Advance Preview copy of this 2020 book that’s on the market now. This book dovetailed nicely in with the online conversation I had. For example, the diagram from the book, below, points out some tips on having a meaningful dialogue. Though somewhat simplified, I found it a good reminder that we are more alike than different.
Both Living Room Conversations and this book focus on understanding the other side. They focus on tolerance for each other’s views. You may not think that’s enough or possible or worth it. I think it is. We’re not going to change each other. But in a peaceful society, we need to practice civility. We need to understand and appreciate each other. Respect our differences.
If we don’t aim for at least tolerance, the air in our bubble becomes quite stale and practically non-existent. And beyond tolerance, I wonder if another concept could be helpful. From the Living Room Conversations website, I learned a new word: sonder. Sonder is the realization that everyone has a story.
I’ve been avoiding looking at my privilege for a long time.
While I realize I’m a white male in a mostly white society, for most of my life I wasn’t aware of my privilege (which is part of the problem).
I usually fell into statements like…
I am fortunate.
My life is blessed.
Without looking too much beyond that.
When I think about race and racism, I feel stuck. I feel like nothing I say will change the mess of a system we now have. So why am I saying anything? Partly, it has to do with being a writer and an educator; through writing, I often come to understand my own thinking and I feel like I need to do that before I can share it or help others to understand their thinking. More importantly, though, is that I’m realizing that writing is not enough. The injustices in the world are calling out once again that it is time for action.
Below are two, recent Facebook posts (written by other people) that I hope you will ponder for more than a quick read. I have re-read them several times and they are both a call to action.
The second post was written by the parent of a former student; Sam Hosey is a man that I respect — an intelligent, involved and caring parent, whose opinion as a person and as a black man, I value.
In America – because I am a human who happens to have white skin, I can do all of these things without thinking twice:
I can be arrested without fear of being murdered (#GeorgeFloyd)
I can go birding (#ChristianCooper)
I can go jogging (#AmaudArbery)
I can sleep in my own home (#BreonnaTaylor)
I can relax in the comfort of my own home (#BothemSean and #AtatianaJefferson)
I can ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and #RenishaMcBride)
I can have a cellphone (#StephonClark)
I can leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards)
I can play loud music (#JordanDavis)
I can sell CDs (#AltonSterling)
I can sleep (#AiyanaJones)
I can walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown)
I can play cops and robbers (#TamirRice)
I can go to church (#Charleston9)
I can walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin)
I can hold a hair brush while leaving my own bachelor party (#SeanBell)
I can party on New Years (#OscarGrant)
I can get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland)
I can lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile)
I can break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones)
I can shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford)
I can have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher)
I can read a book in my own car (#KeithScott)
I can be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#CliffordGlover)
I can decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese)
I can ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans)
I can cash a check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood)
I can take out my wallet (#AmadouDiallo)
I can run (#WalterScott)
I can breathe (#EricGarner)
I can live (#FreddieGray)
White privilege is real. Take a minute to consider a Black person’s experience today.
THIS IS NOT A COMPREHENSIVE LIST. It goes deeper and longer and so many injustices never saw the light of day.
Thank you to all of my friends, who happen to be white, (or non-black) that have spoken up and spoken out. Many of you are my childhood friends and former co-workers whom I love dearly and I know many of you feel the same. So what do we do next? That’s a question I get asked often. First, keep your eyes open for injustices, but also look beyond the blatant racist acts and look for disproportionate treatment in our institutions. Second, call out your friends, relatives and even employers on their biased habits. Here are some suggestions…(and ask what can you do to fix this?)
* Read the book “White Fragility”
* Ask why is my church predominately white?
* Ask why my company or department isn’t 14% black (percentage of black population) at every level (entry level to executives)?
* Ask why the nonprofit board I’m on is so white?
* How many black people are in my circle of actual friends that I can talk to and listen to?
* How many black teachers has my child had in school?
* How many black neighbors do I have?
* How many black people are city council members?
* How many black public servants are there in my community?
* How many black people have I helped groom professionally speaking?
* Ask why are most of my local news anchors white?
* Ask when the last time I saw a white person brutalized on the news vs. the last time I saw a black person brutalized?
* Ask why are nearly all owners of NFL and NBA sports franchises white but players about 75% black?
* Ask why are most university presidents white?
* Ask why are athletic directors and D1 football/basketball coaches white, but the players mostly black?
* Ask why do I have such a problem with black athletes — who come from disadvantaged economic backgrounds and generate billions for the NCAA and millions for the school — getting paid, but are okay with white coaches getting millions?
* Ask why is the hero or leading character in my favorite movie white?
* Ask what programs does my company sponsor to uplift the black population in our community?
* Ask why are the rankings of “best schools” and “best neighborhoods” and “best cities to live” are always predominantly white?
I could go on. To bridge these gaps it will take very specific and intentional steps from white people. Attend meetings for the city council, the school board, your HOA, your nonprofit, your church, your company’s hiring panel and call this stuff out. Challenge other people who are in charge to fix it. Recruit, start action-based diversity programs, be welcoming, call out injustice and the wrong we see. It won’t do much if a couple people do it, but if a few million do, then we can effect change pretty fast and we won’t have to see racist cops killing people anymore. Thanks for listening.❤️
If you want to watch/listen to something to help kick start you, peep this out…
Wrap up…in direct response to Dr. DiAngelo’s video…and the two posts from above —
I’m the white progressive Dr. DiAngelo is talking about in the above video. I see that now. I do feel that I have tried to inform myself on race issues to some extent: attending diversity trainings and taking implicit bias tests, reading many books by black authors, singing in a mixed race gospel choir, many relationships with people of color… I try to be informed…but no, I haven’t given years to “study, struggle, and focus” on this topic.
I’m aware that my understanding of racism is incredibly incomplete, and there is some discomfort in discussing it…but that’s where growth comes from.
One tries to be humble and vulnerable when one is learning.
Humility…saying one has it pretty much destroys credibility.
the uncomfortability of discussing racism
is where we grow things fall apart
so that they can be pieced back
to fall apart…
know that the falling apart
will be pieced back
Yes, I was raised to be racially illiterate. Being Armenian, I was taught to be proud of my ethnicity. Proud of our language, our food, our history, our struggle to persevere and survive genocide,
and that’s similar
I’m not living in Turkey.
Maybe if I was an Armenian living in Turkey right now…
Racism is definitely a system.
I’m part of it. Not proud of that.
A part of it
apart from it
Her re-framing of the Jackie Robinson story for truth (…”whites let him play”…) helps me. I need role models…for change. I keep going back to Sam’s list above and thinking about which ones to address first.
Aversive racism, as she describes it, fit me to a point; I don’t buy the notion that our places of work are mostly white because people of color don’t apply — I’ve seen racist policies in place going on there…but have I spoken up?
I need to use my freedoms, my privilege, to speak up and out to change our unjust system.
Here’s an excerpt from DiAngelo’s book to get you thinking…
Here are some other resources that have helped me on my continuing journey.
Years ago, my fishing buddies and I created this mash-up of a song. I started singing it again today — a couple weeks into this virus lock down.
* Note: Every time the lyrics change, you need to start singing the new song tune…
It starts with Lenny Kravitz’ “Fly Away” then to Steve Miller band’s “Fly Like an Eagle” and so on.
I want to get away
I want to fly
like an eagle
Riders of the storm
into this world were
Born to be wild
Born to be
You make my heart
Singin’ in the rain
I’m singin’ in the rain
(there may be more but I can’t remember it)
Here’s an audio version…
I share this because though ‘I want to get away,’ I am staying home. I do feel like I’m bopping from one thing to another, having trouble going deep into anything (writing, episode-watching, reading, gaming…). This memory reminds me of carefree times and I hope to get on the river again this summer, but I’m taking every precaution at this point. I pray that you will also. We can limit the severity of this virus if we work together.
BEST SUMMARY VIDEO: Trevor Noah interviews Dr. Fauci
* I was going to discuss how many sheets of toilet paper one should use for #1 vs. #2, depending on your gender…but instead, just watch these guys and their alternatives to toilet paper.
Movies we have seen so far:
* Young Sherlock Holmes – We saw it on Criterion, but you can also see it on YouTube TV and Vudu. Directed by Stephen Spielberg, this 1985 flick was much better than I expected. The music and a few of the scenes reminded me of Indiana Jones, Star Wars, E.T., and even Harry Potter for some reason.
* On the Basis of Sex
* Moulin Rouge
* Mrs. Doubtfire
Every once in awhile Robin Williams re-enters our lives. His daughter, Zelda, posted this photo of them on her Twitter feed. And one thing led to another and we enjoyed his humor again last night.
Some of the shows/series we have watched (and where we found them)
* The Marvelous Mrs. Maizel (Amazon Prime)
Here’s the Maizel cast interviewed if you need another fun thing
* The Crown (Netflix)
* Outlander (Starz)
* Schitt’s Creek (Netflix)
* Ken Burns’ Baseball (PBS)
* Mark Maron’s stand up called “End Times Fun” (Netflix)
* a few Sherlock Holmes episodes on DVD (PBS version with Jeremy Brett)
We just finished our second puzzle. I liked several things about it: the reminder that we have so many National Parks and Monuments waiting for us to visit; the information about the parks was interesting (and helped when placing pieces); getting reacquainted with the location of the parks (because I love geography); and the vibrant colors of the puzzle. We are starting another puzzle today.
I’m reading a few things of course: The Sun Magazine (and old copies that I didn’t finish); listening to Trevor Noah read his book, Born a Crime; Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman (our men’s book group book); Lent 2020, Christ Is for Us by April Yamasaki; and several books of poems (In the Corner of the Living by Janine Certo; Tunsiya/Amrikiya by Leila Chatti; and E-mails from Scheherazad by Mohja Kahf)
I’m writing two books right now. My book of poems was coming along slowly until this isolation set in. Now, I have collected in one document all the poems I’m currently planning on using. I need to revise about a third of them and pass the whole collection by the members of my writing group (and by Judy). Here’s a glimpse at the list of poems I have included thus far:
A Hope Unspoken
Test Driving a Hearse
Clara was a Tiger
Praise for Anonymous
In a Democrat’s Car
How You Know You’re in the Northwest
Instead, at 6:30 am
BRF is Not Me
Birth of a Poem
Opening a Pomegranate
Poem for Today
Too Still, Too Small
Why We Are All Not Jesus
If Life is Baseball
What Will Happen
I’m co-authoring a book for teachers also. Kristine Brickey and I are writing a book called Lower Your Expectations: A Teacher’s Survival Guide. Much of it is written; we are tweaking it and hope to have it out in some form by the end of the year. Here are the current chapter titles:
Lower Your Expectations: A Teacher’s Survival Guide
Table of Contents
Prologue: Let’s Get Real
Chapter 1: It’s Not Time to Panic…
Chapter 2: Teachers Need Naps, Too
Chapter 3: Your Expectations are Too Damn High!
Chapter 4: Teaching ‘Then’ vs. Teaching ‘Now’
Chapter 5: When To Bitch and When Not to Bitch
Chapter 6: Honesty and Parent-Teacher Conferences
Chapter 7: Why Won’t You Let Us Teach?
Chapter 8: Now is Still Not the Time To Panic
Chapter 9: So What’s in Your Toolbox?
After reading all of that, I seem busy (even to myself). I don’t feel busy. I was just telling our son, Aaron, this morning how I enjoy the pace of my life. Yes, it has slowed lately, but even before our virus precautions, I have a blessed pace to my life. I’m aware that this life I lead is a privileged, white male life in a prosperous country…and I do my best to use my life for good.
Do you ever feel that you are holding books as hostages? I have a connection with every book I own and I love having access to them when I want to read them, but sometimes I feel that they are prisoners. That I’m keeping them from being read by others. It may sound strange, but I’ve learned that even when I think my feelings are odd and unique, others can relate.
As difficult as it is to let go of some of my books, I am doing it on a regular basis. Whether to increase the chances they will be read or to clear out my hoard/library, it needs to happen.
So, as we begin to hunker down for the winter, if there’s a book from the list below that strikes your fancy, let me know and I’ll get it to you. If you want to keep it, that’s fine. If you want to read it and give it to another interested reader, even better. And if you’d rather give it back, I can deal with that too (I’ll just put it in a Free Library near me).
Note: this give-away is also necessary because I keep buying more books.
* Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin
* Indian Boyhood, by Charles A. Eastman
* Animals in Translation, by Temple Grandin
* What is the Bible?, by Rob Bell
* A Newbery Halloween (a dozen scary stories by Newbery Award-winning authors), selected by Martin H. Greenberg
* Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers
* The 100 Best African American Poems (with CD), edited by Nikki Giovanni
* Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age, by Bill McKibben
* The Lacuna, by Barbara Kingsolver
* As We Are Now, by May Sarton
* The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho
* Unlearning God: How Unbelieving Helped Me Believe, by Philip Gulley
* Telling Writing, by Ken Macrorie
* Reservation Blues, by Sherman Alexie
* Brainiac, by Ken Jennings
* The Book of Forgiving, by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu
* A River Runs Through It, by Norman Maclean
* Bird by Bird, by Annie Lamott
* Gandhi: A Manga Biography, by Kazuki Ebine
* Beloved, by Toni Morrison
I don’t know if you can tell, but these are not my throw-away books. Some are my favorite reads (and some are doubles). These are books I recommend. These are books that need to be read. I am freeing them to be read. I want them to have a good home. And I have many more; if you would like to peruse my poetry books, fiction section, Native American collection, biographies…let me know.
I’ve been struck lately by the amount of people I know that are traveling. Good friends are exploring the Greek Isles. Another friend is doing a fellowship in Tennessee. A retired couple I know are re-visiting Yellowstone Park and the Tetons to experience the wildlife and nature. Another family of adults is in Austria and Germany on a tour. A poet friend is in Italy visiting family. Another couple is visiting their daughter in Japan. A Kalamazoo College student is studying abroad in Germany. A couple took their pre-teens out of school for the year and are RV-ing through southwestern United States. The list goes on. And while I’m a little jealous, I’m mostly just aware of the importance of getting out of our safe spaces and experiencing new environments and cultures. Without travel, our lives are narrow and fear of the ‘other’ festers.
For too many people in this country, fear is what drives them. It’s sad. They fear immigrants and the gifts they bring. They fear imports and the competition they bring. They fear Science and the knowledge it brings. They fear women and the leadership they bring. Their fear leader is taking this country in the wrong direction. Instead of giving him and his negative tweet factory any more attention, let’s change our focus.
The HP ad above, startled me a bit. (You can see the whole thing by clicking on the photo and there’s an article about the ad here) Near the end is this photo and question…Have we lost touch with what’s real? It’s possible. We’ve at least lost touch with what’s important; as I drive around the Lansing area, I notice many people looking down at their phones as they drive. It’s incredibly dangerous. Driving IS real. I admit that I will check a text at a stop light, but looking while driving seems like asking for an accident.
I do think we need to change our focus (I’m talking to myself here, also).
Here are some suggestions:
* Visit a church, synagogue, or other religious institution different from the one that you usually attend. The new minister at the Peoples Church of East Lansing, Reverend Dr. Shawnthea Monroe, was inspirational and challenging in her recent, first sermon. That’s where I sing in the choir; and I do plan to attend regularly. I feel drawn to Congregation Shaarey Zedek, too, though. And the Islamic Center of East Lansing is a very welcoming place also. I’ve attended services at both places of worship as part of the Thanksgiving time interfaith services. This year’s Interfaith Service will be at the Unitarian Universalist Church on South Pennsylvania on Monday, November 25th at 7 pm. if you are interested.
* Get involved politically instead of feeling angry or apathetic. Learn about the candidates (just a suggestion) before you vote.
* Learn something new, whether online, at a college, by reading a book, or going to a film. For example, the East Lansing Film Festival is always an eye-opener for me. The link says the festival starts October 30th, but the Indie festival is going on this weekend…I plan to see Sama and Tel Aviv on Fire in the coming days.
* Use public transportation as a way to change your perspective.
* Participate in a Living Room Conversation as a way to express your concerns on an issue and try to understand the concerns of those who think about the issue differently. https://www.livingroomconversations.org/
I’m in a phase where I feel like I don’t know anything. It’s difficult to write a blog entry of any substance right now. I’m doing a lot of reading. It feeds my unknowing more than reading usually does. It feeds this feeling that this world is almost unknowable. Knowledge can be overwhelming. And a bit immobilizing.
Something will come of all of this. I still write from time to time. I offer this draft of a poem which is somewhat on the subject…
This Is One Poem
I once heard of a tree named Discipline
I wanted to find it and revel in
its constant beauty
but alas, it left me wanderin’
Every ant distracts
Birds’ activity threatens
Intent and focus
A laziness of thought
I wear it like
an x-ray barrier
a pile of stones
that COPD elephant
I won’t be posting on Facebook for awhile. I’ve decided to use this spot.
Facebook annoys me. I’m tired of a virtual life. I need more actual living. I want to…
…sit by a fountain and listen more
…read the Bible more
…help out more
…split wood more
…go fishing more often
…play my guitar more
…listen to music more
…watch fireflies more often
…drink more cold beer
…play more volleyball
…go for more bike rides
…walk along the beach more
…read the books on my shelves more
…go bowling more
…even clean my office more
…talk with flesh-and-blood friends more
(just a partial list)
Facebook has made me ADD-distracted (Gerry Brooks explains what it’s like, below)
Facebook is also too toxic lately. I need a cleanse. Garrison says that “Facebook is okay but if it went away, we could learn to sit with people over coffee and conduct conversations.” I agree with the second half, but I think “okay” is too strong of a descriptor. Facebook is “meh” to use the already-old hip jargon. I think Jerry Seinfeld has made a valiant effort to get people sitting with coffee and conducting conversations on his recent Netflix series (which I love). He’s subtly re-teaching us how to be with each other.
Regarding my non-virtual life and being with flesh-and-blood friends…
I was recently part of a committee that recommended a new head pastor for our church (She’s amazing by the way…come and visit us in a couple months when she starts). I take pride in my ability to listen and contribute when I’m on committees. And I made some new friends along the way; a fun way to volunteer my time for an important task.
I am part of a men’s group at our church that meets (most) every Tuesday morning at 7 am. to discuss a book and to connect. I have enjoyed getting to know each of these men as we walk on our faith journeys.
I’m in a gospel choir called the Earl Nelson Singers that meets on Monday nights to practice singing and to get to know each other better. We sing in concert sometimes too. All fun (and praise).
You can’t do these things on Facebook. And these are the things I want to do more.
I’m not saying I’ll never look at Facebook. Just look, not lurk (or post). What’s next for me is less and less screen time. Yes, I like to play a few games, and communicate via email and text some, but I am consciously disconnecting from Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. I’ll see you here…or in person. Garrison goes on to say that “Comedy and compassion are what you need to make your way in the world.” Makes sense to me. Maybe I’ll go find Garrison and see if he wants to talk about comedy over a cup of coffee. Or I could start my own show: Armenians in Restaurants getting Meze (appetizers); or Kabodians in Bars drinking Beer; or Wanna-be Comedians in Nightclubs getting Booed.
P.S. If you’re continuing on Facebook, here’s a couple tips about talking with difficult people. First of all, good for you, for sticking with it. I jumped ship as my method. My friend, Troy Hicks, wrote a piece on Peer Review in Public that used four things to keep in mind when commenting on a peer’s text, which I believe is good advice for most any communication —
(Troy’s piece is worth reading and you can also annotate the book, Annotation, and feel a part of the larger project)
And I recently read The Faith Club in men’s group; it’s a welcome reminder that, while some conversations (for example, about religion) are difficult, we shouldn’t avoid them. It’s not necessarily advice I am following in my life right now, but I aspire to it.
Two thousand nineteen is about half over, and it has felt like ‘opposite day’ for that entire time, so here are two blog entries in one, to celebrate its half-ness and its oppositeness (as the math crowd knows, 1/2 multiplied by its opposite (2) is actually one, so yeah).
Here’s a draft of a poem that may have promise.
Instead, at 6 am
I need the cool breeze
Coming in through the screen
And that pervasive silence,
That welcome absence —
I need distant bird chatter
As the loudest sound
And an orange burst,
Pink spray, green leaved
Instead of physical activity
And its expectations.
I need this pen and my journal,
A few moments alone,
Time to contemplate the day
With a glass of water
In a soft recliner
That rocks when I say.
Stillness without sleep
Thought and observation without action
I began the next entry around graduation time. It’s incomplete, unfinished, lacking something…but then again, aren’t most graduates? Aren’t most of us?
Congratulations to the class of 2019 at every level.
Congratulations to those choosing retirement.
Congratulations to everyone who just breathed in and out.
Success is so hard to define. So, for everyone moving from one thing to another thing, I recommend the following podcast: How Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? (You can listen to the podcast or read the transcript by following that link). It’s a recent On Being discussion on that elusive thing called “success” involving Krista Tippett, Abraham Verghese, and Denise Pope.
Here are a few highlights designed to heighten your interest:
* “Follow your heart…within reason”
* The importance of friendships across generations (a type of mentoring) — “I think it’s really a calling for this century because the wisdom of young adulthood, I think, is actually an urgency and an impatience and this longing and this aspiration to see the world whole and make it better. We want that. But there’s something so relaxing about living for a while and knowing in your body that life is long and knowing that there will be another side to whatever is happening. And so that’s really the experience you have of failure.”
*“on a small scale, [resilience is about raising] your hand in class and risk ‘sounding stupid.’”
* “failure, what goes wrong, what you get through that you didn’t know how you’d get through, this is the breeding ground of becoming wise and mature.”
I liked the discussion, partly, because of the speakers’ collective awareness that there is no one path to success. And their understanding that one hurdle toward whatever success is most assuredly involves failure. Many of the seventh graders I taught in the final years of my career were downright afraid of failing. That leads to a lack of taking risks (in writing, in class participation, in leadership…) and that can be quite immobilizing.
Generations of Allium look like waves of students over time
I recently had the honor and privilege of participating in the East Lansing High School Commencement. Two graduates asked that I give them their diplomas. That allowed me to have a seat on the stage. I became a witness to the graduates’ pride. A co-celebrator in their joy. As a retired teacher, this was a rare and singular moment. Our district (like many, I would imagine) is not that adept at using the talents of retired teachers, paraprofessionals, and secretaries in an on-going, integral way. The occasional invitation to be included in commencement, however, excuses that educational faux pas just a bit.
Witnessing young person after young person hearing his, her, or their name spoken, finally, at Commencement felt like seeing sunrise after sunrise after glorious sunrise. Each one had a face that mixed exhilaration, expectation, and trepidation with a dose of amazed wonder. They were beacons of hope, one after another. Each a success, but not in a ‘final package’ way; they found a way to cross the stage and it will lead to many more successes —— laced with failures —— on their journeys.
A teacher friend suggested I read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Intrigued, I found the TED Talk by the author and I share it here for its important messages; it is, in an odd way, a success story. Not the author’s story, per se, but her awareness that generalizing one experience to fit a whole group (stereotyping) is at the heart of what’s dangerous in our world today.
Danger of a Single Story
I found a wonderful reflection on Adichie’s video that includes a way to incorporate it into a meaningful lesson, for you teachers out there. Both breaking stereotypes and offering self-awareness, this lesson seems important at this time in history.
* Challenge Success is an organization that helps schools and communities re-think what they are asking of students. They offer a way to re-think what success means for each student.
* Success in a concentrated way is a version of flow, a concept I use with students to help them find balance and confidence. Here is Csikszentmihalyi’s TED Talk on the subject.
Last week, I was part of a poetry reading at the East Lansing Public Library. I was encouraged by the audience’s reaction to a few of my new poems. I offer them here, as a April-is-Poetry-Month salute. The audience laughed all the right places (thank you to every single one of you) and that reaction was a wake up call to me to write more funny stuff. I’m not sure that you’ll see me doing stand up comedy in the future, but I have started reading Comedy Writing Secrets and aiming toward a more humorous tone in my poems. We’ll see where it leads.
A few, unrelated Haiku
Nuthatch speeds from branch
To feeder to branch and back —
Life’s rat race displayed
Life isn’t five-seven-five
Life rhymes sometimes
Most of my exercise
Is pulling myself out of bed
To write this
— — —
FYI: A dancing madrone (below)
How You Know You’re in the Northwest
First of all, you and your car
Are in line for a ferry.
You’ve been on an island
Where time is inconsequential
And you are temporarily
Giving up all that
To make the ferry
At a certain time
The air is crisp
Even early in the afternoon sun.
A Madrone’s sensuous bar
Catches your eye
As it dances out through the wood
A sporty, older couple
In their matching caps,
Chuckling at secret jokes
A human beauty
Madrone-like in her mystery
Walks by, not really
In your sideview mirror,
You watch her stop
Putting her hand in the window
Of a stranger’s car
To pet a dog
She doesn’t know.
This goes on for a time.
You can’t keep your eyes
Off her enjoyment.
As she walks on,
— — —
A better person —
The dad we wish
The one who stops
To help the stranger
And does actually help.
One of the
Pure of heart
One of the
Type A organizers,
As least where
My desk is concerned
One of the
People who never
Need to apologize
But I do.
For all of it.
That does feel better.
Was it good for you?
Let’s get on with
— — —
I can’t tell you
How many times
I’ve been enjoying
A poem, only to look down
Or flip the page
And the great Anonymous
Was the poet
Flying under the radar
With immense humility
Anon nearly always
And Anon’s versatility —
One minute rhyming
Like a master,
The next a short
Free verse picture of life.
And timeless, my goodness,
Anon never dies.
Anonymous has a self-appointed
So my dear Anonymous
Who could be listening now,
I salute you.
On so many levels —
You are classy
In your stealth.
I am in awe of
your prolific volumes.
Maybe it’s your humble
Nature that’s kept you
Alive so long,