What My Students Have Taught Me

On Thursday right after school I had to rush the few miles to our regional high school for senior project presentations. I have been an evaluator for about ten years; it’s a task that I love and look forward to each time. I get to see how my alumni have grown, what interests they have pursued, and I get to talk with them again to find out what their plans are after graduation.

On my way home, I got thinking about some former students I saw there, and how far they have come, and then I began thinking about how far I have come in all the years of my career.  I have learned a lot from my students, and I’m a better person now because of it. Here’s my list.

Not to take myself so seriously – that I need to lighten up. In 1997, when I told my class that I was going to show them a video, they eagerly asked me to make sure I used one particular TV/VCR from the library, and while I didn’t understand their reasoning I decided to go along with their request. I popped the VHS tape into the player, and pushed “play.” The film started but then immediately stopped. I tried again, and again the video stopped. After several attempts I began to be frustrated, thinking, “OK, I know I’m smarter than this VCR but I do not understand what the problem is!” Perhaps I actually verbalized my thoughts, because the next thing I knew, the whole class erupted into laughter and one of the girls announced that Tyler had a watch that could control the VCR. I had been tricked! Some of the kids looked nervous once the whole story was revealed, but how could I possibly not laugh at such a brilliant joke! It actually felt good to allow myself to enjoy the moment, and after that I made a point to laugh at myself whenever it became necessary. (And as a middle school teacher, it has been necessary often! As long as I get enough sleep I’m OK with it.)

Some kids I’ve known have already had a much harder life than I could ever imagine, and yet they come to school every day and smile.  I sometimes remind myself that we never know what goes on at home for our students, and it’s important not to be judgmental. The most dramatic case involved a girl in my TAG who was actually removed from her home by the state and placed in foster care. I was very fond of this student, and happened to be there when the state arrived. It was dreadful and we were all in tears before the afternoon was over. What I had always admired about this young lady was how capable and goal-oriented she was, and still is. We remain great friends. She is certainly not the only student I’ve had who has had tough situations to deal with – there have been many, and those are just the ones I knew about: a young pregnancy; serious illnesses; domestic violence; poverty and hunger.  The young lady I mentioned here has a mom who loves her, and that matters. Keeping things calm and predictable in my classroom provides comfort and a feeling of safety that makes a difference for everyone.

To smile more. Even if I’m not grouchy, I know that my face sometimes LOOKS grouchy. I can’t attribute this realization to a specific student, but somewhere along the way I learned that while I’m all enthusiastic inside my head, the outside of my head doesn’t always reflect those feelings. As an introvert, I often retreat to my own inner space, and I don’t do it on purpose, but my external demeanor doesn’t always match what’s going on inside. At first I had to really work at remembering to smile, but over the years it became easier – after all the practice, I guess. After a while, smiling became more natural, and it makes me feel better, too!

If I try hard enough, I can find something to like in every student. In my school, the 7th and 8th graders are assigned to TAGs;  it’s our version of homeroom – it stands for Teacher Advisory Group and it’s designed to make sure that all students are well known to at least one adult in the building. It has happened more than once, that when I’ve received the list of my TAG students for the following year, there has been a name that made me cringe.  It really hasn’t happened very often, but when it does it gives me a feeling of dread. How am I ever going to get through next year with “that student” in my TAG?  And in every single instance, “that student” ended up being one of my very most favorites! The students I have had the hardest time liking, though, since I’m confessing all, have been those few students who either sabotage my lessons intentionally, or are otherwise mean and dishonest. But I try to let it go and continue to look for the goodness – and most of the time I have managed at least to like “that student” on a part time basis. I’ve also learned that liking my students is related to the next item on my list; it has been a long time since I’ve had to work at finding something to like in any of my kids.

Relationships matter. I learned this first in my fourth year of teaching, when I met Carina. That year was very difficult for me professionally; a divorce had rendered me an emotional wreck and though I tried to be a good teacher that year, I had no reserve energy. As a fairly new teacher, I had no collection of “stuff,” no files of materials to draw upon.  Carina and I had developed a good rapport, but she moved to Georgia at the end of the year and I found a job closer to home.  We corresponded for a while but the letters stopped when she got a little older; I knew she had outgrown me and so I didn’t worry, although I did wonder.  Then a letter arrived that knocked me off my feet.  It was a copy of Carina’s college essay, and it was all about me.  How I was a different kind of teacher, and how I had connected with her and made a difference for her.

Carina’s affirmation of me affected me deeply. How could I have made so much of an impact on someone in a year that was so awful for me personally? I thought about that a lot, and eventually I came to realize that so much of what we teach is not only what we teach.  Relationships really do matter.  Students must feel safe. Students must feel recognized. Students must feel that we are listening, and we do need to be listening. A friend of mine says there is a big difference between listening and waiting for your turn to talk.  I think many people, teachers included, do a lot of the latter, and not enough of the former. Carina taught me that as I listened to her, she learned more. She knew that she was important, and luckily for me, I learned that I had made a difference. We both grew through the joy of the teaching and the learning, and I still cherish my relationship with her.

Everyone wants to know what they do well, so that they can do it again. Pointing out the good things is a better way to teach than circling the mistakes. Again, I don’t have a specific example to pinpoint when I learned this, but over the years, I realized that students would smile and even glow a little bit when I pointed out things they did well. And I thought about how awful I used to feel when a paper was returned to me all marked up with red corrections and comments on what was wrong with my writing. I know I still have to point out mistakes, but I don’t  have to mark every single one, and I try to find something good in each paper that I read so that my students will have something good to hang onto.

You’re never too old to learn. I have to credit my son Geoff with putting a new spin on this lesson for me. Ever since I finished grad school, I have often proclaimed my love of being a student, and have jokingly said that I would love to just keep going to school even in my retirement. Geoff challenged me on this, and suggested that I could take classes. “What kind of class would you like to take?” he asked me. I thought for a moment and said I’d like to take a drawing class. Then a minute later I added another idea, and another, and another. There are several places in my area where community classes are offered, and there’s a college in my town as well as others nearby. I can take classes – and maybe I’ll even decide to offer one, too, someday.

As my retirement looms every closer – only twenty-something days now – I am learning a lot. About myself and what I will need to do to stay active and engaged. About the opportunities that still lie in front of me. And I have a bunch of great current students who continue to ask me to come back and teach them next year, too. They don’t think I’m old at all – or else they’re just too polite to say.

Thanks for reading.

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Posted in Education, Retirement, Students | 3 Comments

Who Am I, and How Did I Get Here?

I recently noted that while I write a lot of poetry, I cannot call myself a poet. I have long thought of myself simply as “teacher.” But in just a few short weeks, I will no longer teach in a classroom, I will no longer be employed as a teacher. I’ll be the same person, but what will I call myself? How will I identify myself to the world? What will go in that little box on my tax return?

How we label ourselves is an unconscious decision, but oh, how important it is! I have worn many different hats during my lifetime, each of which might be a label: daughter, friend, wife, mother, grandmother, teacher, writer, photographer, teacher.

I have been employed in many different jobs, too, but teaching is the only one that has extended into how I identify myself, and that it true because I believe teaching is something I was born to do; it’s within me.  When I needed to declare a major in college, so many years ago, it was going to be English because I thought that my love for writing could lead to work for a publishing company. My mother convinced me to major in education, because I “could still focus on English,” she told me, “but the world always needs teachers.” She knew even then, when I didn’t, that that’s who I was, but while I agreed to be an education major, I did not become a teacher until many years later.

I entered college in the fall of 1968, the height of the Vietnam war, when it seemed like it would never end and public outcry against the military was gaining strength. At this time, men who were full time students received a military draft deferment, which caused an explosion in college enrollment all across the country. In my freshman class, there were 400 of us — 300 were men who didn’t want to go to war.  Many of us, men and women, became education majors, and so when we all graduated, there were literally hundreds of applicants for every available teaching position. I secured only one interview, and the whole meeting took place across a counter in the high school office. The woman speaking to me asked me only one question: “Well, what can you teach?” I was so stunned by the publicly rude behavior, I don’t even remember how I answered the question. I didn’t apply for any other teaching positions for fifteen more years.

Who was I then? I didn’t yet know. I was married by the time I graduated from college, and found work first as a waitress, then was hired to work at a local hospital in public relations and volunteer services. I loved that job – I wrote press releases and much of the content of the monthly employee newsletter. That was a blast, and I was also asked to take photographs to accompany the articles I wrote. I think my favorite assignment was actually going into an Operating Room, gowned and gloved, to take pictures during a surgical procedure.

I took this publicity photo as part of an article for a hospital employee newsletter, way back in the 1970s.

And there was teaching. In addition to public relations, our department of two was also charged with managing volunteer services, and I was enlisted to train new volunteers in their appointed tasks: how to perform each of the myriad jobs that the many volunteers are enlisted to do. It was fun, and I became acquainted with many great people. But I didn’t identify who I was with what I did for work.

After that, I worked a few years in retail, and when the company launched a training program for associates to improve in customer relations, I was appointed the store trainer. I liked it when managers and supervisors came into my classes; they were impressed at how I personalized the lessons and how the associates really learned what they were supposed to learn.  It didn’t take long before I was asked to be a district-wide trainer. I enjoyed that job, too – I even got to travel, flying to upstate New York to help open a new store.  But while I still didn’t identify who I was with what I did for work, I did finally figure out that there was a message there and it was about time that I faced the truth. I was supposed to teach.

Here’s how it all came down. In September 1986, my dear friend Kathy married, and I arranged to take a long weekend off so that I could be there. Weekends off in retail are rare, so this was a big deal. When I returned to work, I discovered that the assistant manager of the store had decided that he wanted my office for himself, so he stuffed all my belongings into my desk, shoved it into the back storeroom, and moved into his new space. I returned from the weekend to find my desk near the loading dock, belongings trashed. I gave my notice that day.

But one does not find teaching jobs after school has begun for the year, so I hired on as a substitute teacher, and I liked it; my children were small, but they were both in school so it allowed me to have much more time with them than my retail work. I subbed in several schools in the area, and quickly gained a good reputation, which led to more frequent calls to work. One of my first assignments was to cover a sixth grade English class for several days. The lesson plan called for students to read a story about jazz music; after the first day, I brought some jazz music to class to play for them so that they would have more understanding of the ideas in the story. When the “real teacher” returned to school, I happened to be there to cover a different class, and I was able to speak with her directly, telling her what I had done to augment her lesson. I will never forget her response: “You mean you can TEACH?”

Subbing during that school year was an eye-opener in several ways. I got to know which teachers were well organized and left solid plans, and which teachers merely assigned busy work that would never engage student interest. I saw the benefits of different systems of organization and planning, and I saw how different teaching styles can impact classroom environments. It gave me insight that I would not have understood had I not “walked a mile in those moccasins.” I carried that awareness with me always, and later I would write my own sub plans with the expectation that a competent and qualified stand-in would follow my direction with the capacity to use his/her own judgment if and when it would be necessary. I was seldom disappointed. The year I spent at this job was definitely time well spent. I was getting closer.

The following school year, I was hired as a full-time teacher – at the very school where I had brought in the music. I knew that I was in the right place, although I can’t identify any exact moment when “teacher” became who I was; perhaps it was always there, or perhaps it unfolded slowly until it just was. I know that I will always be a teacher in one way or another. As for what I shall call myself, that is not yet for me to know, I think. Somehow, “retired” doesn’t feel like it will work. Perhaps I’ll just have to try on a few different identities and see which one feels the best.

Posted in Creativity, Writing | 6 Comments

The Art of Teaching

I have always loved books, and snooping around in bookstores is a pleasure I still love. (Having a kindle, I have learned, does not mean one no longer frequents bookstores.) Over the years I have purchased many books about writing, about creativity, about spiritual development, but have not yet read them all. Those books have waited patiently for me to be ready for them and the time is now; I have been reading voraciously. It’s the books about creativity that have particularly grabbed me recently, since I believe that I am entering a place and time in my life where I will finally be able to do creative activities that I’ve longed to have time for.

Creative Time and Space: Making Room for Making Art by Ricë Freeman-Zachery is about not only the physical aspects of making time and space for creativity, but also about making time and space in one’s mind. The last chapter even includes advice about how to “Take It On the Road” – perfect for me as my husband and I form plans to be away from home for about three months this summer and fall. We have even figured out a way to bring our wireless printer along in our motor home, so I’m feeling ready to hit the road. The book is a great source of tips and inspiration, and I’m sure I will go back and reference it often.

I am currently reading Peter London’sNo More Secondhand Art: Awakening the Artist Within, and even in the first two chapters I’ve had a huge epiphany. One thing I like about this book is that poets (it is hard to call myself a poet, even though I write a lot of poetry) are included in the group labeled “artists” who create “art.” Art is so often  defined only as visual art, and writers are left out in the cold, but not this book, and I like that. Artists and poets look at the world around them in very similar ways; I also enjoy creating visual art, and this book has allowed all of those parts of my brain to make connections with the content. Here’s the quote that got my attention:

Page from an altered book I made for Carina -- seems appropriate for this occasion.

“It is not uncommon for artists to reach a point in their development where they realize that what they know and can do is less than what there is to know and could be doing. This phase comes not at the point where their work is failing and seems uncertain, but at those moments of apparent great confidence in expression and elegance of presentation. In other words, those boundary-breaking phases of an artist’s development occur when one has full command of one’s craft and has portrayed with completeness the domain of one’s interest” (p. 30).

This resonated deeply within me. I believe that teaching has been an art form for me. Creativity is at the core of my teaching philosophy, and I have worked hard to inspire creativity in my students. When I read this passage, I realized that I have done all that I know and can do at my school, but it is less than there is for me to know, and it is less than what I can do.

I still have a lot to learn and I want to learn so much more! But my work at our little community school has reached a natural end, and so I must move on.  I am not done; I am shifting my energy in a different direction. It feels good.

References

Freeman-Zachery, Ricë. (2010). Creative Time and Space: Making Room for Making Art. Cincinnati, Ohio: Northlight Books.

London, Peter. (1989). No More Secondhand Art: Awakening the Artist Within. Boston: Shambhala Publications.

Posted in Books, Creativity | 8 Comments

Generations, Genealogy and Gerry

This was taken during the 1950s, the day a huge local shopping center opened (no, not a mall -- this was way before malls). From left to right is Gerry, our grandmother, my mom, me, our aunt Katie, and Gerry's mom (my aunt) Elsie.

In my seventh grade classes, we’re doing a unit about generations; since this will be the last time I will teach it, I’ve tried to plan some memorable events for my students. This is a unit I have done many times, and as with all my work, I rarely do the same thing twice the same way, so there’s always a lot of planning to do ahead of time, and that’s always an enjoyable and creative task. Once the unit launches, I play a lot of music and we look at the lyrics; the kids really like that. There is a wealth of possibility – some of my favorites include Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle,” Mike and the Mechanics’ “The Living Years,” Tom Rush’s “Circle Game,” and I’ve tried to keep the collection relatively new with “Back When We Were Kids” by Eleventyseven, “Youth of the Nation” by P.O.D. and “September” by Daughtry.

Children are never too old to enjoy being read to, and I read to my seventh graders a lot during this unit. I read poetry with students, and we talk about it.  One of my favorites is “Mother To Son” by Langston Hughes, rich in metaphor with its crystal stairs and landin’s and places where there ain’t no light. Another is “Grandma Sits Down,” in which it takes grandma most of the poem to navigate her old bones into the rocking chair, which almost tips over when she falls into it. At the end of the poem, she writes to a friend that it is finally spring and she is “anxious to plant some seeds.” It brings forth conversation about how old we are inside our heads versus our actual chronological age.

I read children’s picture books aloud, too – the best ones will engage children up to a hundred years old. I ask students to do a written response to those works. Some of them are a challenge for me to read aloud without weeping, although sometimes (but not always) I feel strong enough to let myself cry as I read. Funny how that works, isn’t it? One that always puts a lump in my throat is Roxaboxen by Alice McLerran. It’s the story of a neighborhood filled with children who create an imaginary town out of rocks and boxes, and the author takes us right into the adventures. At the end of the book, the children are all grown up, but they ALL remember their childhood village, and even as I write this summary I, too, remember my old neighborhood, just down the street from the Maplewood School. We had our own special whooping call to gather us for an adventure, and we’d play and play and play – baseball or kickball in the street, or hide and seek in the woods behind my house. I remember my classmates from then, some of whom I’ve reconnected with thanks to Facebook. It is a wonderful, special memory that I will always treasure, no matter how old I live to be, and when my students write about their special places, some kids write for pages and pages.

At the outset of my unit planning this year, I sent an email to the whole school staff asking if anyone knew of a person who could come in and talk about genealogy with the kids; the current popularity of the hobby seemed like a great component and I thought that if I could get some of the kids excited about finding out about their own ancestors, it would be excellent. No one responded to my email, though, and that turned out to be a good thing because that was when I realized that I already knew the best possible expert: my own cousin Gerry! Because she lives about three hours away, I didn’t expect that she would be able to do it; my house is too small for overnight guests so that wasn’t an option. To my delight, though, she agreed to come!

It was the week’s highlight for my seventh graders, and also for me. The kids really enjoyed seeing some photographs from when we were kids, and hearing about some of our family adventures and about our ancestors. I always enjoy those moments when my students can see me as a “regular person,” and not just the “teacher,” and that happened nicely on this day. I loved it.

I arranged the desks in a modified U shape so that she could sit and show them pages in a binder that she had created. I can’t say all the kids were perfect, but most of them were, and they were eager to share their own family stories. During the first class, it occurred to me that the most relevant final project for this unit would not be the “interview an old person” writing assignment I had planned, but rather would be to help families start researching their own ancestors. When I proposed it to that first group, the kids actually cheered and said they would LOVE to do that! So I’ll write a letter to parents, and we’ll see how it goes.

This coming week, there’s a second highlight for the generations unit. Our cafeteria staff is going to cook a special “heritage luncheon” with a menu designed around the countries of origin of our students. We’re inviting grandparents and senior citizens (through our local community center senior program) to come and have lunch with us. I’ve arranged to borrow real tablecloths and napkins, the kids have made invitations, and I hope there will be great conversation across the generations.

Thanks for reading.

Posted in Aging, Celebrations, Education, Family, Parents | 3 Comments

An Awful Week

I have rarely been so grateful for the weekend to arrive. I could hardly recognize myself this week — so overwhelmed and anxious I heard alarm bells going off inside my brain. It felt like it was caused by lazy students having a mutiny, but it couldn’t be that simple, and I’m wondering if I am creating my own reality in order to make it easier to leave. Makes me sound like a belligerent teenager, doesn’t it? I hope that’s not the case! Let’s examine the evidence.

The eighth grade trip to Washington, DC is coming up in a couple of weeks. It has always been my job to prepare the students for that trip; I designed a unit about memorials and why they are important, and taught them about our expectations for their behavior in the many different kinds of places the group visits. Last year, since I had relinquished the task of trip coordinator, our new social studies teacher and I taught the unit together so that she would know how I approach the material. We had planned to repeat the process this year, but with my own classes lagging behind, I decided that I would have to bow out, leaving her to teach the material alone. On Monday afternoon, we met to talk about it, and I gave her my many posters and books about Washington. When we finished, and I was packing the posters back into their portfolio for her to take away, I suddenly felt a lump in my throat about the finality of it all. I expressed my feelings out loud, and she kindly offered not to take the materials. I reassured her that no, it was OK for me to feel sad, and I wanted her to have everything. And that was very true. But I had been so wrapped up in the eighth grade project work for ELA class that my feelings took me by surprise, and I went home and wrote a poem about it, thinking that would make it all OK. Perhaps it didn’t.

Eighth grade students are complex creatures, if I may speak metaphorically. They are the center of their own universes, and their social lives are of paramount importance. School is somewhere maybe halfway down the list of priorities. Of course it’s never accurate to make such universal judgments, and there are exceptions to the rule, but this week, it felt to me like most students had planned a mutiny against turning in work. (I had caught some of the girls looking online at prom dresses when they should have been researching their heroes.) We were at the end of a month-long writing project, and as of Wednesday there were only ten students in the whole class with passing grades. I realize now that I took it as a personal attack and it simply pushed me right over the edge. I turned into a shrew, meeting with school administration to devise a plan on how best to deal with the situation. We got through the week – Friday was Spring Fling and scheduled classes were cancelled, which compounded my stress level about a thousand percent – but no blood was shed, and most of the students managed to turn in most of the work.

I write this on Saturday morning, feeling a little bit like I’ve been run over by a truck, but with more ability to think logically. I was definitely not myself last week; I was downright nasty.

Being the coordinator of the Washington trip for so many years was important to me, and I loved it deeply on several levels.  First, it took me back to my own roots; I had lived a quick bus ride away from DC as a child, and my mother took me into the city often, teaching me each time about our country’s history and government. Going to Washington, DC is like going home for me, and I passed that gift along to my students, taking personal ownership in the whole experience.  I prepared the kids beforehand, helped to teach them while we were there about the places we visited, made the decisions about where we would go, and culminated the experience upon our return with follow-up responsive writing and project work.

Second, for most of the years of the DC trips, I was also teaching social studies, with special emphasis on the Cold War and Vietnam. Teaching about Vietnam was definitely the most personally rewarding accomplishment of my career. Taking my students to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was the ultimate culminating event of that extensive and effective teaching unit. I know that my students learned deeply from that unit because so many of them have told me how it’s the one thing they still remember even after many years have passed; I truly appreciate all those messages of affirmation.

And now: an epiphany. While I am not part of any component of the Washington trip any longer, I’ve felt like at school I have to pretend it doesn’t matter. My meltdown was caused by an overload of emotion, about letting go and wanting everything to be perfect this year. I realize now that I’m more sad about it and less able to shake it off than I had realized. While my brain is trying to deal with giving away my materials, a relatively minor bump in the road turned into a major sinkhole and I fell in. Students not turning in work is something I have dealt with hundreds of times, and this week’s issue should not have measured so high on the Richter scale.

I’m not sure what I can do about it; how do I help myself grieve this enormous loss? Discovering the true cause of my meltdown should serve as a start in figuring out how to deal with this loss, but at the moment I don’t know what I need. Going on the trip one last time is definitely NOT the right solution. It would not be “my” trip, and I would probably hate having to deal with the changes that have been put in place over the last two years. Whining about it isn’t going to help either. As with many things in my life, it seems to come back to writing, which makes one more confirmation that writing is where my future lies; and so I start here, with this public confession. It helps a little. I think next week’s blog article might be about teaching the Vietnam unit.

Thanks for reading.

Posted in Education, Retirement, Travel, Writing | 2 Comments

What To Do With All the Books?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about starting to clean out the years of accumulated stuff in my classroom. The process continues and has led to some great conversations and connections.

I started by sorting through binders of units and lesson plans. Since then I have moved on to the books and posters. I think I may be a bookaholic – like Thomas Jefferson, “I cannot live without books.” I’ve never counted them, but I know that the number is very large, and I also know that there’s no way all my books will fit in my tiny home. I actually no longer want to keep many of them, anyway, and finding new homes for them has become fun.

I sorted through the posters first. I love posters, and have collected some great ones – many are reproductions of famous paintings, like van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” My older son, a high school English teacher, expressed interest in having the art posters, so I bought a mailing tube and sent a bunch to him in South Dakota. This afternoon, my six year old granddaughter Ellen called me to say she loves the “Starry Night” poster and has it hanging in the room she shares with her sister, and her little brother has chosen some others for his walls as well. I thought I was sending the posters for Geoff’s classroom, but obviously there was a much better destination! My step-daughter is a reading specialist in my school and I gave her a poster from the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art; I have some American Library Association posters, too, that she will be glad to have.

Giving away books has even re-connected me with an old friend, also a high school English teacher. Trish arrived in my classroom one afternoon this week – it was great to see her – and we had fun going through poetry, volumes of quotes, some short story collections, and then the professional books. She laughed at how many of my books were also titles she owned, but we managed to fill three big bags with books she didn’t already have, and she chose some posters, too.

Yesterday I drove to Massachusetts to visit my brother, who has been hospitalized recently; he looked great, and we hope he’ll be able to go home before too long. He is a history buff, and we got talking about how I used to teach about Vietnam. He told me that he would like to have some of my Vietnam books! It had never occurred to me that he might want anything, so I was pleased, and I know that there are at least a couple of titles he will enjoy, such as Stanley Karnow’s Vietnam: A History. I actually have two copies of that one. In 2007 I was accepted to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund’s teacher program and spent several days in Washington, DC attending workshop sessions, learning about the memorial, and meeting some amazing people. Karnow was one of our speakers, and he graciously signed copies of his book for each of the attendees. I’ll give my brother the unsigned copy.

Two other teacher friends have told me they would love to have some of my books, and my son will take books in addition to the posters I’ve already sent. I’m certain now that I will have room for the volumes I choose to keep, and I shall find good homes for the books that others want.  I can always donate any leftovers – there are lots of sources in that department.

As I’ve looked at all the books in my huge classroom this year, I have worried about how to downsize, fearing that I would not find takers, but it has turned out to be even easier than giving away free kittens. My books and posters have found loving homes and I won’t have to agonize about it any more!

Posted in Books, Retirement | 2 Comments

Lunch with a Friend, and a Decision

The older I get, the more I love and appreciate my women friends, and the more important they become in my life. It has nothing to do with the relationship or the love I have for my husband – in fact, I think it’s because I love him as much as I do that I feel free to lean on my women friends in ways I know would drive my husband crazy. My husband and I promised a long time ago that we would not suffocate one another or become co-dependent, and he likes it that I don’t drag him along with me all the time. I have several wonderful women friends in my life with whom I spend time, and I love each and every one and always look forward to the times we share.

This article is about having lunch with my dear friend, whom I’ll call “A.”  We have been friends for something over twenty years, and while our contact with one another seems to wax and wane, we are able to come together even after a long time as though it were only last week. “A” is a person I can bounce ideas off, knowing that she’ll tell me the truth if I’m out of line, and I can do the same with her. Such honesty, delivered kindly and jokingly, is a rare treasure, and so we tend to bounce all kinds of wild ideas off one another as a way to stay on the true path. We’ve been able to get together a few times this winter; we had lunch one day last week, and her daughter joined us as a surprise to me. I hadn’t seen her daughter, whom I’ll call “B,” in many years but she recently moved back to the area. All grown now, she fit right in and we three women launched into some great conversation.  “B” didn’t necessarily know that I was going to retire, so I didn’t feel pressured to talk about it, and our conversations took a circuitous route through all kinds of interesting territory. I think we were talking about a horse – “A” has had many horses, and at several different times has declared herself,  “Done, not having any more horses!”  “B” and I were teasing her wickedly about a new horse she was considering — when suddenly, in the middle of the horse conversation, I achieved clarity. I had my answer, and it was really very simple in the end.

It’s all about the writing. It was writing that led me to the decision to retire in the first place, and I need to hold true to that goal. I need to have faith in my ability and I need to follow my passion. At that moment I knew it more clearly than I’ve known anything in a very long time. It was grand. Since then, I have let go of all the other ideas; I have, for years, joked that “I want to do it all!” and it was that thought that has been forcing me to consider every possibility. I would love to be able to do it all, but no one has that capacity and it would be stupid to stretch myself so thin.

Looking back on the moment, it all makes sense. I was relaxed, but alert and engaged in the conversation, which was about the future – but not specifically my future, and so my brain was able to function without the burden I’ve been carrying around for all these months. Because “B” did not ask me what I was going to do next, I wasn’t working on what I would say. (It seems that in the last six months or so, when people ask me what I’m going to do after I retire, I usually squirm uncomfortably, and admit that I have no idea, and I hate it every time.)

Later in the week, I printed out a new copy of my book, wrote a new letter to another publisher, and sent my book off again. The first rejection letter was encouraging and hopeful, and I believe in this book.

I feel as though a great weight has lifted from my shoulders and I am standing taller, smiling more, and am determined that I will create my own future, my way.

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Blue-eyed Horse on Flickr by: iantho

Posted in Retirement, Writing | 5 Comments