Saturday, September 16, 2017

Hurricane Heartbreak

Received the most heartbreaking email just now. It is one thing to see TV reports of massive flooding and destruction from high winds and storm surge ... but another thing altogether when the victims are people you know and love. Phrases like "no guarantees about power, water, etc. so we have to be prepared to tough it out" ... "our house is wrecked: the entire downstairs wiped out by the storm surge" ... "try to board up what we can, remove as much of the moldy stuff and not go hysterical in the process" ...

I wept like I haven't wept in a long time.

Understand that it's often the head talking, more than the heart, when words such as these are said: "Will have to process, and get on with it ... it could have been worse and we can rebuild ... a lot of people are hurting more, but our situation isn't good and it will take a year or more before we can get back in place probably."

Hearts are hurting very badly now. Hearts cannot really take in all that has happened. Hearts cry out, "Why me?" even when the head knows there's no rhyme or reason to the more violent forces of nature.

Hurricanes like Harvey and Irma rage through relatively quickly, and for the vast majority of us fade very quickly from our consciousness. But even those who escaped the physical violence of the event itself now must deal with an emotional violence that reawakens with the handling of each ruined photograph or the memory of that favorite chair that is now sitting, God only knows where. Those experiences and memories won't soon fade.

The rest of us can pray and encourage, lend a hand or donate money as needed, and remind ourselves, "There but for the grace of God go I."

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Aging Stinks

Aging stinks. There’s no way around it. It stinks. Out loud.

Don’t offer me the time-worn platitude that we should be grateful for getting older, as many don’t get that opportunity. I’m all too painfully aware of its truth. I am grateful for every day that I get to be one day older ...

But aging stinks.

Yesterday I was confronted full-on with this truth, as I was forced to enlist help in transferring items -- mostly furniture -- out of storage. I was forced to sit on the sidelines and watch a couple of young men handle my belongings, all the while 100% KNOWING that I had been able to handle these things myself (or with assistance from another) not all that many years ago. I KNOW, because I personally had participated in moving these items during various relocations. And it was torture to idle by, watching someone else work. I felt lazy, and useless, and maybe even a bit embarrassed ...

And today, with a jolt, I realized that this is PRECISELY the way Greg must have felt as he assumed the role of Director, more than Doer, at events we participated in. He may, in fact, have felt even worse and more helpless, as he was sick long before he started showing outward signs of being sick.

Yeah, I remember sly comments that were made to me about how I was doing more than my share of the work of Celtic Heritage, and the oblique suggestions that Greg was taking advantage of me; I heard, second-hand, observations as to how Greg was “one of those” men who sit by and watch their wives work. Knowing how much he would be hurt, I never let on to him that I was hearing these things. I do realize -- well, I do hope -- that no one was intentionally being cruel. But they were judging, and it still stings ... and I kind of hope that they feel at least a pang of regret at having judged my husband without fully understanding what was going on. Because the simple truth is that NO ONE understood, not even Greg himself, what was going on. His body was aging, though due to chronic illness rather than sheer age, and he was forced to “idle by, watching someone else work.”

Aging stinks. There’s no way around it. But with the loss of physical ability comes the opportunity for greater insight, and I can certainly be grateful for that. I’ll fight the feelings of laziness and uselessness and embarrassment, and try mightily to fight the fear of being judged by others. And I’ll pray for resistance against judging that which I do not understand.

Maybe that prayer is something we all could make, regardless of our age?

Monday, July 3, 2017

How Much Do You Love Music?

If you are a music lover, I encourage you to give this article a thoughtful read: https://qz.com/1041397/steely-dans-donald-fagen-is-back-on-tour-the-result-of-nobody-buying-music-albums-anymore/ Donald Fagen of Steely Dan -- a band that never liked touring to begin with -- says that since album sales have plummeted in recent years, the only way for him to make a living is by touring. Now you can pick apart the motives of a man whose net worth is reportedly $30 million, and say he’s just being greedy, and he should pull back on (what you assume to be) his extravagant lifestyle ... whatever. But please don’t get distracted from what I am trying to tell you. IF YOU LOVE MUSIC, PLEASE THINK ABOUT HOW YOU SUPPORT THE MUSICIANS WHO MAKE MUSIC. I can’t say it any plainer than that. We all have our reasons for not purchasing music any more. The old wax cylinders of yore gave way to 78s, which gave way to LPs, which gave way to CDs. And on the “tape” side, the bulky reel-to-reel gave way to 8-tracks, which gave way to cassettes, and now “nobody” listens to taped music any more. All those cylinders and tapes and records and CDs amount to clutter. And we have so much clutter in our lives. Believe me, I get it. So here we are, in the digital age, where we can purchase downloads and store them right on our computers/tablets/phones/iPods. No clutter! But wait! There’s an even better option: streaming services like Spotify. Spotify works great for you. For $9.99 you can access a music library that is much more vast than anything you could possibly afford to amass on your own. I get it. Believe me, I understand. I just want to make sure that you understand how this affects the people who make the music you love. Let’s say a “paid listen” pays a penny. (That’s about what I see on my own music, and my company gets all that a paid listen yields; an artist who’s under contract to a label therefore makes even less.) To offset $10,000 in recording costs, an artist needs a million paid listens of that recording. One million. That’s a lotta listens. If, on the other hand, a digital download of the album costs $9.99 (which is pretty standard), the artist needs “only” to sell a thousand digital albums to recoup $10,000 in recording costs. And we’re only talking about recouping costs, not actually earning any money. So you can see how the day may come when you don’t get as much new music any more, because musicians -- especially “indie” musicians -- simply can’t afford to deliver that new music to you. I am definitely NOT whining or asking for sympathy. I am not asking you to take on the burden of supporting a bunch of musicians by buying CDs that clutter up your house, or by buying digital downloads of music that you fear you’ll listen to only occasionally. I just want to make sure you understand what’s happening. Rest assured, people who have a gift and a passion for making music will always find a way ... though right now I don’t have a clue what that way is. But you definitely want to think about this the next time you borrow a CD from a friend and download the music to your own computer. You definitely want to think about this when you freely share MP3s on the internet. You may want to think about this when you keep scouring the internet looking for that perfect streaming service that has a million-song library and is completely free to listen to. I understand that you’re doing it because you love music. I just want you to understand that you may be killing the very thing that you love.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

To Honor Teachers

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week, and all week long, I’ve seen some great tributes to those teachers who’ve influenced various Facebook friends. It’s time I chimed in. My memories won’t necessarily be who taught me what academic subject; I’ll be focused a bit more on how they impressed me, or the impact they had on me as a person.
To start with, there was my 2nd grade teacher, Mrs. Hipps. (Hope I’m remembering her name correctly -- 2nd grade was a looong time ago!) I am still moved by her instinct to ask the little shy girl in her class to help the scared little new girl get adjusted to the class ... and "the little shy girl" and I are lifelong friends, thanks to that pairing. Oh yeah, there were the reading groups, and math lessons that I now realize were rudimentary introductions to algebra, but it’s her personal touch that I remember best of all.
I remember my 3rd grade teacher, Miss Hays, best for the spelling competitions. She made learning fun for me.
My 4th grade teacher used to read to us. I’d always enjoyed reading, but somehow I credit her with helping to instill in me a true love of reading -- she opened up the world of Trixie Belden to me. (I’ll bet a few other classmates feel the same way.)
5th and 6th grades are somewhat of a blur, as in these grades we “changed classes” for the very first time -- in other words, we had subject area teachers. And it’s hard to remember who taught what, what year, but one really stands out: Mrs. Stone. Mrs. Stone opened my mind up to “New Math,” and I appreciated her then and I appreciate her now as teaching me HOW math works. The very next year, I became a teacher myself, tutoring one of my friends in math so that she could pass the entrance exam to an elite prep school in a neighboring city. I missed my friend when she moved -- maybe I shouldn’t have done such a bang-up job tutoring, huh? -- but I did discover that I had a talent for helping people make sense of math. (Note to former students: You can either thank Mrs. Stone or curse her. She’s the one who gets credit for my having become a math teacher.)
My 7th grade English teacher, Joy Barnard, is hands-down the best and most influential teacher I ever had. So seamlessly did she integrate the rules of grammar into my very life, that I do not even have any specific memories of lessons. Except for sentence diagramming, which I remember being enjoyable (though I might not have thought so at the time!), and which I still am able to do, at least mentally, when constructing sentences. (Like that last thing, which is impossibly convoluted and not a sentence at all, but actually a fragment. But hey! Thanks to Mrs. Barnard, I know which rules I’m breaking!)
Another influential 7th grade teacher was a person whose name almost never comes up in reminiscences with friends: Mr. MacDowell. He was our composition teacher -- yes, composition was a class apart from English! -- and we wrote all the time. All. The. Time. It was for me a very good thing.
And how could I not remember my 7th grade math teacher, Mrs. Reyburn? I do remember once frustrating her a little bit: We were brainstorming, coming up with a hypothesis (of course, as 7th graders we didn’t call it that!), then testing the hypothesis. I still remember other students eagerly working, then approaching her with their evidence that the hypothesis worked. Me? I sat there, trying to think up evidence that would show it didn’t work. When I found that non-example I was looking for, I showed her my work, expecting that the exercise would be over for the entire class. I don’t quite remember how she did it, but she did manage to praise me for my work and make me feel good ... while keeping me dummied up so that I didn’t ruin her lesson plan for the day! It still makes me laugh.
My 8th grade teacher, Miss Bryner, deepened my love of folk tales. I still have the “book” that I created as a class project.
My high school biology teacher, Mrs. Scott, and chemistry teacher, Mr. York, deserve high praise and my undying gratitude because, despite the fact that I did not particularly enjoy those subjects, their lessons were invaluable to me when my husband, Greg, was battling for his life. Seriously, I was able to understand, and communicate with, the endless parade of medical personnel that were an ever-present part of our life for three years. Kids, every single one of us has, at one time or another, asked the question that is the bane of a teacher’s existence: “When am I ever gonna use this stuff?” I’m here to tell you: Learn everything you can, because you just never know!
Our school system was relatively quite small, so there were teachers we saw again and again, sometimes in multiple disciplines. One such teacher was Mrs. Williams, who taught me not only 9th grade English (and made me love poetry) but 10th grade World History (and I still cherish the things that I learned in our comparative religions unit) and a 12th grade social studies class whose name I cannot quite remember but whose lessons in cherishing my freedom as an American and celebrating the diversity of America’s citizens I will never forget. She forced my mind away from my little world to Selma, Alabama, to the lettuce fields of California, and many points in between. She was the chief influence in my decision to pursue an interdisciplinary major in the Social Sciences, a somewhat challenging degree to attain because it required not only facility in research and writing, but proficiency in statistical analysis (and 30% more than the standard credit hours devoted to the major, I might add).
Despite having grown up in a very small town, in a very rural area of Florida, my peers and I all pretty much agree that we got a fantastic education. I am still stunned at the breadth of my literary knowledge, and a lot of that exposure came from Mr. Smith and Miss Anderson. There are several others, really good teachers, who I’ve not taken the time to mention, mainly because their impact on my life was mostly confined to the academic. There’s so much more to being a truly memorable teacher than the impartation of knowledge and management of young people, and it’s sad that the various state legislatures have overemphasized those two aspects of teaching.
From my teachers, I didn’t just learn a bunch of stuff. I got an education. And I am blessed