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Blog Post, The Last

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“There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story.” -Frank Herbert
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Dear Friends,

Three and a half years ago I started this blog. It was a creative outlet during a time when I was very much home-bound tending to the care of my father, and feeling very much the need to give expression to the stew-pot of random thoughts and observations simmering inside of me. Once again in my childhood home, surrounded on every side by things that reminded me of my youth and the familial happiness I had always enjoyed, I found I had a new, more experienced perspective  from which to  interpret the past.  Once again I walked the neighborhood frequently. (I used to walk this neighborhood by necessity, to get to school, to visit friends, or to go to the store, but since returning I have walked mostly to add variety to my days, and for my health.)

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As I walked, I couldn’t help but feel the past and present mesh into a finger-painted blur. The most interesting observation resulting from this fusing of times was that everything that was old was new, and everything that appeared new was shaped by the old. Once, there were orange and lemon groves skirting the foothills on the north end of town, now there are big, expensive homes that have stealthily crept up the mountainside. The homes in our more workaday neighborhood have remained the same, yet have become different, having undergone updates, remodeling, drought-tolerant landscaping, or having been worn down by time and neglect.  Still, basically, they are the same homes, roosting like hens on their nests waiting for something new to hatch out from under, within, or around them.

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One walk took me onto the premises of my old elementary school. Peering through the windows of the first classroom I attended at that school produced mixed emotions—the once tidy, orderly classroom with the honey-colored wooden shelves and cabinets housing fresh manila paper and stacks of sack lunches, had become cluttered and tacky with too much “stuff” covering the walls, windows, counters, and floors. The large picture windows on one end of the room, once brightly beckoning weary brains to recess, had been blocked at the lower levels so students, I supposed, couldn’t see out, or daydream, forcing Light, the literal Revealer of Knowledge, to diminish. Surely the school wasn’t perfect when I was there, but I turned away from that window feeling melancholy at the loss of something that was once unspoiled. Also gone was the old-fashioned playground equipment from my past: the extinct teeter-totters, the variegated metal rings and the uneven bars that all the girls of my generation had used to test out (and show off) their athletic prowess. The school still stood, was still in use, but it was changed and affected by the times.

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Our neighborhood park has often been incorporated into my walks. It, too, at first glance, appeared to be what it once was, but the trees have grown tall, or have been removed, old playground apparatus’ have disappeared, the rec center is now a day-care, and scores of soccer players now populate the lawns. When I was a child, the park, like the housing development, was brand new, the trees—but saplings back then—provided little to no shelter from the sun. The park has since become an oasis of shade, a welcome stop for grandchildren to climb trees and scramble over the playground, letting off pent-up energy from being indoors.

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The city center, once a cute, small-town “village” still has a reputation as such, but up-scaling has produced higher-priced, fancy restaurants, haute couture clothing stores, and a library that was once a quaint, little gem transformed into a ziggurat-ish eyesore. Still, much of the old has been preserved in town, and, for the most part, it retains its charm and attraction, for which I’m grateful, and very fond.

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Neighbors have come and gone, too. Mostly, they have gone. Besides me, those directly across the street are the only ones left from the “olden days.” They’ve been in their home almost as long as our family has occupied ours—over fifty years. They are both now eighty-five, and tend their front lawn with tender loving care and a fine-tooth comb. (It was only this summer they finally broke down and hired a gardener.) It’s comforting to see their familiar faces, and to share produce and jam, as well as watch over each other’s homes during vacations. They are like the pepper trees lining the street, rooted to the neighborhood, providing the kind of constancy that shades and protects that which is cherished. But I know even they will not last forever. Things change. Time slips by in unintelligible increments, quietly amassing into years filled with subtle change.

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I have often written about change in my blog, and here I am writing about it again, one last time. A year ago, my dear father passed away. The reasons that writing a blog were so appealing to me at the time I began this blog have become moot. A time for reminiscing has transformed into a time for wiping the slate clean, so to speak. That’s not what I’m really doing, of course, but it feels like it. It feels like I’m in process of taking down, ripping apart, discarding, or throwing away almost every remaining vestige of my childhood and former life, and of the lives of my parents, kissing them all a tender good-bye. Today, I went through another closet. My father’s old corduroy jacket was buried in a sack of old sweaters. I pulled it out, smelled it, and hugged it for a long time, weeping over the loss of my dear parents.  I took it into his old closet and hung it up. It won’t stay there, because going through the things in that closet are also on my have-to-do list. I have to do this—there is no one else who can. It is my lot, and I must face it, and carry the weight of it.

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Before long, the house will be sold. But first, it will have to undergo even more change—a face lift. Nearly everything in the house is original, except the carpet. The linoleum tiles can be picked up and moved around like puzzle pieces (the glue wore off long ago). The wood cabinets are thread-bare and tired. They cry out for me to put them out to pasture. The yards, too, have suffered great neglect during the last two years of my father’s demise, and the decade-long drought that beset California until this past winter.  Yes, the house must undergo change. It’s gray hairs are showing, just like mine. I miss the days of dark-haired youth, but there is no holding back time or the tide. We all ride the great gushing wave of eternity, and there’s no getting off. My own mortality beckons to me frankly, and it’s okay. I am not afraid of what lies ahead and beyond.

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But there is an overwhelming sense of so much to do. Will I ever finish? Does anyone ever finish? My parents didn’t. Each left projects undone, words unwritten, music not played. As I wade through receipts that are a half-century old, old negatives, artwork, books, clothing, letters, photographs, stamp collections, family history work, and endless, heart-strung memories, I find much of my parents’ life work in a state of suspended animation. I think “finishing” is a false idea, a foolish notion. We come to the great Finishing School of Earth without the slightest notion of finishing, of becoming fully polished and ready to enter the vast gates of eternity, though we may work toward it all our days. We struggle with human frailty, with ambition, or lack thereof, with responsibilities, fears, and trials. We grasp for every moment of joy life affords, and relish time with loved ones, friends, and the beauty of the earth. We study hard and take exams, we marry, and rear children, we gather the sheaves of the depth and beauty of life into the garners of memory to cherish in our old age. We wrestle with aging bodies, health, and dementia, and watch our beloved, aging parents become as children, needing their children to “parent” and assist them as they exit this life. They welcome and parent us into life, and we bid farewell and parent them out of this life. It is a circle. We are an intrinsic part of that circle. It will all happen again. As I sift through the relics of their lives, having to part with most of it, I wonder if I will have time to complete those things I have longed to accomplish. Simple things, like writing my personal history for my posterity, and spending time with and knowing each precious grandchild and great-grandchild intimately—having a relationship that will outlast time. Those relationships are the things that endure, that stay in the innermost pockets of the heart, and that are valued throughout eternity. Nothing can take that away from those who nurture those relationships. Not even time.

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And so, I have come to the point where I realize I have little left to write of in my blog, at least right now. I can’t think about it anymore. I must move on, finish, if possible, reliving my parents’ lives as I go through what they left behind, and attempt to finish what is left to live of my own life (and I hope there are decades-worth left). My mind and heart are beset with the sheer volume of stuff, the monumental size of the task, and the overwhelming sense of a book that has turned its last leaf and is winding down towards an unending finish. It is at this point I find I must also end my blog, at least for now.

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“A Random Harvest” has been therapeutic for me. It allowed me to reach out and interact with others without leaving my father or the house. It allowed me to ponder upon my past and to share the blessings of life that my husband and I have enjoyed, (alone and together), to muse on the beauty and poetry of life, and to observe with friends the interesting little inconsistencies, the absurd, the delightful, and the profound aspects of life. Whenever someone—someone known to me, and someone I did not know—responded with a comment to my little offerings, I felt a greater extension of the brotherhood and sisterhood we all share with one another. I hope you felt it, too.

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Mine are just little scribbling symbols of random, haphazard thoughts and ideas. But I have felt such gratitude and such unity as I have learned that others have felt much the same. How can I ever thank you for reading my obscure, little blog? For holding my hand, as we’ve walked this small byway on the path of life together? When I have looked at the stats page on my blog, I have been amazed at the people from around the globe who have—I’m not sure how—happened upon and read my humble thoughts. I find that absolutely unfathomable. But I am humbled and fascinated by it every time!

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I love Emily Dickinson’s poem about books– “The Frugal Frigate”–one of my favorites:

There is no Frigate like a Book 

To take us Lands away 

Nor any Coursers like a Page 

Of prancing Poetry – 

This Traverse may the poorest take 

Without oppress of Toll – 

How frugal is the Chariot 

That bears the Human Soul –

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In many ways, I feel similar sentiments about this blog. For me it has been a frigate—a chariot—bearing away my human soul, traversing lands, and ideas, and hearts, without oppress of toll. I have connected with others who share my love of all things good and virtuous. This makes me happy. There is a lot of good in the world! I’m so grateful!

 

So this will be my last blog post as “A Random Harvest,” at least for a while—maybe forever.  I am allowing it to enter into a state of suspended animation. At some later date, if a desire has not rekindled to post again, I will retire it into the annals of things of the past. Like my childhood home, my blog has run its course. Both have brought me joy, and I have learned and grown because of them. I hope it has been one small pinprick of light and joy for you, as well. I will miss it. I will miss you.

 

I declare to you my faith in a loving Heavenly Father, and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ, the “Author and Finisher of [my] faith,”(Hebrews 12:2) and the Holy Ghost. They are the hub around which my life revolves, and the balance that keeps me sane and happy. It is through Them that all sad endings, and supposed “unfinished symphonies” of life may be transformed into eternal joy and sublime fulfillment. I share my gratitude for a supportive and loving husband, Brad, (who has good-naturedly allowed me to feature him in my blog from time to time). I also share my love of family and friends, for there is nothing that brings greater joy while traversing this expanse of time on earth. I thank you for your comments, for your interest, and as always….

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….from the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

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©September 22, 2017

*Note: All these beautiful book covers are public domain images.

+Featured Image: “Destiny” by John William Waterhouse (one of my favorites)

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“A Story Stuck in My Mouth”

 

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Blog Post #45

I have a sweet, precocious, six-year-old friend named Violet whose natural exuberance and keen mind often make it difficult for her to refrain from talking. While sitting next to her in church on Sunday, during the administration of the Sacrament when it is especially expedient that those in attendance are quiet and reverent, Violet continued to chatter away in a whisper I could almost comprehend, but not quite. I leaned over, put my arm around her small, but capable shoulders, and whispered for her to save what she wanted to tell me until later. At first, she nodded her head in assent, perfectly understanding the expectation. Then, after sitting quietly for perhaps fifteen seconds, she looked at me with that wonderful candor that children of her honest temperament possess, and quietly exclaimed, “I have a story stuck in my mouth!”

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And so she always does, and those wonderful stories easily glide from her articulate tongue to those with willing – and I suppose for some, not so willing – ears. I love Violet’s intelligence, I love Violet’s vivacity, and I love Violet’s stories.

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I find that, like Violet, I also have stories that are stuck, but not so much in my mouth as stuck in my brain. Being of a more taciturn nature, and with less ready wit than Violet has, I prefer to tap out my stories on a keyboard where, for me, thoughts flow more easily than they do when I must trip over the large, lumpy obstacle in my mouth.  (I am referring to my clumsy tongue, but I am forced to acknowledge that my foot is often just as great an impediment to articulate speech as is  my tongue).

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Just as it is difficult for Violet to rein-in the marvelous things that spill out of her mouth from her brilliant mind, it is equally difficult for me, without an easy gift of gab, or a particularly brilliant mind, to rein-in a desire to write. Each morning, I get up with a long list of to dos that I know I must attend to. While I’m scrubbing the toilet or picking up groceries, I feel an itchy sort of urgency to drop all of it and run with carefree abandon to my drafting table and begin typing away. Sometimes, that’s exactly what I do (even when the main feature playing on the screen of my mind is blank)! It doesn’t matter that I can say nothing in a million words. What matters is the need, the desire, the setting free of those things that are stuck within my mind and heart, begging for expression.

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Writing is a means of liberating those of my thoughts that haven’t the ability to take any kind of intelligible form in any other way. If I try to speak them, they come out in a terrible jumble. I am constantly apologizing for saying things wrong. Or I stand, mute, on the sidelines hoping silence will serve my companions and me better. Or I speak, and let the “fool” out.

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It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt. – Mark Twain

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Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something. – Plato

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Stuck-y-ness may apply to other things, too. Instead of stories, perhaps songs and poetry are stuck within sore and bleeding hearts. Maybe movement, dance, or athletic prowess is stuck in petrified or disabled limbs. Maybe the desire to see the world is stuck in a nine-to-five workweek, or a tight pocketbook.  Maybe a love of numbers, technological wizardry, social awareness, education, or countless other interests become stuck inside hesitant spirits. Maybe a burgeoning desire to make lasting friendships is stuck in a heart that doesn’t recognize its own self-worth. Or maybe hope and faith are stuck deep within a fear of the unknown.

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Maybe you know what’s stuck inside you, and maybe you don’t. Maybe you think that when you un-stick what’s inside of you there won’t be anyone who will value your offering. Maybe you feel it’s too soon, or too late to try.

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I’ve always had a story stuck in my mind. I didn’t always know it, though. It wasn’t until about ten years ago that I woke up to the fact that I had always had stories begging to come out. At a young age, I made books. Lots of books. I wrote mysteries, children’s stories and poetry, and illustrated every page. (In fact, most of the artwork I’ve created during my life has been illustration work – telling stories with pictures.) As a teen, I continued to make books…hand-bound books filled with pictures, and an outpouring of the tender feelings I had for my family and friends. One would think the production of books, making hard-bound, cloth-covered bindings, sewing in the pages with needle and thread, and filling them with illustrated stories would be a big enough hint to realize that writing and stories were important to me.  Not so. It took half a century before I figured out that writing had always been, and still is, for me, the satisfying channel of expression connecting my secret harbor of thoughts to the open sea of communication with others.

97bb6635c0317d74ff72b7761d791047It amazes me that Violet, at the tender age of six, is already cognizant of the stories stuck in her mouth that she longs to express, and it further amazes me that she is eloquent enough to relate that desire to others.

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Certainly, it is important to learn appropriate times and places to give expression to one’s innate desires; a worship service is probably not the best time to tell one’s stories. It’s important for children, as well as adults, to learn socially acceptable behavior, courtesy, reverence, respect, and self-mastery. Even so, perhaps you may learn, as have I, a lesson from Violet. It is important to know in one’s heart, as Violet does, that one has a gift that aches for expression, to acknowledge that gift, and to discover how to set it free at such times and such places as will most benefit oneself and others.

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We may be profoundly instructed from “…the mouth of babes” (if we will only listen).

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This is Violet. I love Violet.

My dear little friend, Violet, please keep telling me your stories. I’m listening.

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End Piece

© November 1, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.

*All of the beautiful pictures included in this post, save the one of Violet, are public domain images, most of which originated in, or are covers from children’s storybooks.


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Slow Asleep, OR The Lion Sleeps Tonight (but will I?)

Blog Post # 42 

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“Sleeping Nymph” by Richard Franklin

For me, bedtime has become a carefully choreographed series of contortionist moves and mind shutdown techniques (none of which work), attempting to find a brain- and body-calming remedy that will allow me to drift into that profound state of unconscious bliss called sleep.

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“The Gettysburg Address” – Abraham Lincoln

Repetitious “mind static” is a huge factor dictating if I sleep or lie awake. No matter how I tune the dial in my head, I invariably pick up brash, white noise that won’t leave me alone. It might be the same three lines from the theme song to “All in the Family,” a problem without a solution, or a repetitive rendition of the first paragraph of The Gettysburg Address, but whatever it is, I can’t seem to find a station in my brain that is able to either complete a thought, or tone down the volume. Sometimes, my mind is in such a hurricane of inventive, creative excitement, it’s impossible to find an eye of calm. The worst is the (fortunately infrequent) fretting that is easily pacified during daylight, but haunts like a host of demons the moment the moon smiles, mockingly, through the window.

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Princess and the Pea by Edmund Dulac  (1911)

Another factor, and lately, the more troublesome, is comfort. There’s nothing worse than a Mexican Standoff with your bed. In this regard, it’s fairly certain I am a very near relation to the royal with the hyper-sensitivity to a tiny legume. No matter how high her mattresses were stacked, she could feel that tiny irritating pea lurking beneath. And so it seems that no matter how many egg crates and memory foam mattress toppers my husband, Brad, stacks on our bed, I can still feel the tiny seam on my nightwear, or a slight wrinkle in the sheets digging into my side.

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To insure no outside noise disturbs our slumber, we have three separate fans going at once, none of which point directly at us. The white noise and wind tunnel effect breezing through our room at gale force readily allows paper airplanes to dart about, but for us, presents a unique set of problems. For one, when they were passing out eyelids, sadly for Brad, he got a set one size too small, preventing him from ever, fully closing his eyes. Like a plastic bag left slightly open, a blowing fan has the same effect on Brad’s poor eyes as air on a sandwich—they dry out. On the other hand, my sheets don’t know if they’re coming or going. One minute I’m roasting, and the next, I’m cold. My feet and shoulders like to feel cool air, but my middle likes warmth. Hence, the bedding goes up and down like a Roman blind all night long.  

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Recently, as my aging father’s needs changed, we found it necessary to check on him periodically during the night. We settled on a schedule that would allow each of us a chunk of sleep in between each check time, but that meant setting separate alarms to awaken us at our own scheduled times. I knew my old alarm clock’s irritating buzzing would awaken both of us, so I decided it best to experiment with several alarm tones on my phone, adjusting the volume, then tucking my phone into an open drawer next to my bed where I could hear it, but hopefully, Brad could not.

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I needed a tune that would both wake me up, and motivate me to get out of bed at an insane hour, without disturbing Brad. I thought a cello piece from “Master and Commander” would be both energetic and soothing, but the first few notes doused Brad awake, as if with seawater in the face. The theme song from “Pirates of the Caribbean” cast me over-bed, but was also too lively for Brad. It didn’t help matters that I invariably fell into a profound sleep moments before the alarm went off, blowing like a foghorn next to my ear. Groggily stumbling from bed, I’d heave-ho to the bathroom with the gait of a drunken sailor, before checking on my father.

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Rousing though they were, the nautically themed alarms walked the plank. Brad asked me to find something less alarming, and I was all for it, as well. It was only natural, then, that the next alarm I chose was Brahms’ Lullaby. Brad wasn’t disturbed in the least by this alarm, and sadly, neither was I—sleeping through its quiet lulling more than once. Obviously, it was living up to its reputation.

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Pavlov and dog

 

 

I was determined to find an alarm tone that would awaken me, but not Brad, while not making me sick of a tune I had once enjoyed, nor making me blunder about as if on sea legs. Like Pavlov’s dogs, I was developing a strong aversion to all of the aforementioned tunes because of the unpleasant association of rising from Davy Jones’ Locker each time the alarm sounded. Finally, I found a generic, nondescript, quiet tune that, even after having heard it dozens of times, has awaken me without lingering like the California Raisins jingle.

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The alarm tone finally settled, a much weightier problem still existed—that of pain. Certain bodily trials (nothing serious, just the nagging sort) have created a love/hate relationship with bed and bedtime. Aside from the problem with “the pea,” my body creates its own set of issues. The first, and lesser, evil that arises at times is hunger pangs. No, it isn’t a question of starvation, but we do like to eat dinner very early in the evening (usually between four and five), you might even say we’re eating “dunch” (or, if you prefer, “linner”)—a combination not unlike “brunch” but combining lunch and dinner. By the time 2 AM rolls around, if I’m awake, I’m hungry enough for breakfast. I’ve never been one to raid the fridge in the middle of the night, and I’m not about to start now, but if pain hadn’t awakened me, I wouldn’t have thought about hunger until a more reasonable hour of the morning.

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Climbing back into bed after only a minute or two of being up, pain begins, literally, rapping me on the shoulder, ordering me to, “Move over, roll over, put your leg here, stretch your neck there, put your arm on that side, lie on your tummy, lie on your back, sit up…oh, forget it—get up!” To alleviate the problems pain presents, I find myself trying a series of yoga-esque poses, all performed with great difficulty in a horizontal position, further complicated by nightgown and bed sheets wrapping around me in a mighty tangle, creating the illusion of a stalled tornado. During the twisting and turning, the tornado picks up two additional pillows in an attempt for skeletal alignment. This always results in a repetitive rotation through which said pillows are flung about by the tornado, first between knees, then under an arm, then under tummy, then under leg, and so on and on until at least one of the extra pillows is cast aside as debris. After unsuccessfully attempting to find comfort in every possible pose, the whole rigmarole begins anew, until, at last, I find my generic alarm tone startling me awake, and I must presume that, at least for a few moments, I really did manage to fall asleep.

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Sleep itself is always an adventure, of sorts, because, since expecting my first child forty years ago, I’ve had extraordinarily kooky dreams.  Here is a sampling:

  • Bicycle handles coming out of my stomach (which tummy, by the way, was completely transparent)
  • Standing positively still in a box-shaped room full of floating peas
  • Alligators hanging off the ends of my fingers
  • A tornado held up by little cartoonish feet, dancing around trying to balance the spinning cyclone they’re holding aloft
  • An insignificant (now forgotten) dream interrupted by a commercial break featuring an animated skunk named *Sally Rushkin rowing a leaf or nut-shaped boat (*I was so certain that Sally Rushkin was an actual cartoon character from 1950s TV, I did an internet search, which resulted with no hits. Such is the workings of the mind when dreaming.)
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Sketch made of “Sally Rushkin” just after waking from the dream

The list of kooky scenarios is unending. Nightmares also have a sense of kookiness, but not wishing to remember them, I don’t record them as I do many of my good cuckoo dreams. One son-in-law acts as my dream analyst, claiming he can read my dreams like a book, because they’re so symbolic. Symbolic or not, it’s a hoot to hear his interpretations of the eccentricities that fill my dreaming hours. It makes me feel that, Plato-like, I’m creatively philosophizing, working out real-life issues throughout the night—and doing it all in my stride, or more accurately, in my sleep.

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Plato

 

Our nighttime schedule has undergone many changes these past weeks, as we’ve experimented with different strategies for sleeping and rising throughout the night. Lately, we are sleeping more, and waking less, which is agreeable enough, if it all works out that way. Brad’s alarm has only roused me once, and I think he, at last, is numb to mine, as well. However, the standoff with the bed, my body, and my mind may never be resolved. I often feel sentimental about the words of the poet Robert Frost:

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“…And miles to go before I sleep,  

And miles to go before I sleep.”

Only a better rendering for me might be:

…And trials to go before I sleep,

And trials to go before I sleep.

And when sleep doesn’t come, I may be found following Henry David Thoreau’s practice:

“I put a piece of paper under my pillow, and when I could not sleep I wrote in the dark.”

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 Which is precisely how this post came to be.

My First Blog Post EVER!

End Piece

© July 7, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.


2 Comments

Drawing a Blank

Blog Post #30

A blank mind. A blank page. Both suggest one has nothing to say. While appearing to be intrinsically the same, I’m convinced that they are positively different.

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A BLANK MIND.

I’m especially dumb (as in the dictionary definition: unable to speak) when relying solely on my mouth to communicate. A monumental disconnect forms a gaping canyon along the neural route between the plethora of thoughts in my brain and my bumbling mouth. As articulate words attempt to cross the synaptic bridge of neurons spanning the chasm, they topple into oblivion, leaving me speechless—drawing a total blank. A blank mind. However, that doesn’t mean I don’t speak. Oh-ho-ho! No, indeed! I speak because it’s expected, and to fill the void, but a lot of nonsense often ensues. I must make a conscious and focused effort to say something of value. On one such rare occasion, a rather profound sentence–which has become my byword–emerged victorious: “I can say nothing in a million words.” And there you have it. My First Blog Post EVER! A blank mind isn’t always unwelcome. Frequent are the times I think without realizing I am thinking. It requires difficult and deliberate effort to focus my thoughts, but in general, thinking is an involuntary function. I’m grateful I don’t have to think to make my heart beat, or to breathe, that my brain is at work 24/7, whether I’m aware of it or not. The fact is I can’t seem to shut my thoughts off, even when I most want to. ill_pg_044_lg Two-thirty in the morning is the worst time for cognitive awareness—what I call the “twilight hours” of the brain. I am beyond counting the number of nights I have lain awake thinking. Sometimes, twilight thoughts merely annoy, distract, and burden with reminders of what I did or didn’t do that day, or what I need to remember to do the next. Other times, they plague me with an itchy pox of unanswered questions, or magnified views of my faults and failings in a relentless and irritating way. Thoughts often torment once I move from the vertical to the horizontal position, morphing innocuous, productive ideas into destructive, unsettling—sometimes frightening—nightmares. We all experience nightmares during sleep from time to time, but “awake-mares” can be even worse. There is a greater sense of credibility to these tormenting thoughts, as I lie wide awake when I should be fast asleep. When I’m startled awake by a nightmare, I can shake it off, saying it was only a bad dream, but when I’m awake in the dark of night and my thoughts shift from annoyance to torment, it’s difficult to separate what is true from what isn’t. I’m not sure why this happens, except, perhaps, that I am so tired, my mind can’t think rationally anymore.

Goya_sleep_of_reason_cropped

“The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” by Goya

Twilight thinking occurs during a state of limbo between waking and sleeping, fluctuating between reality and fiction. It is at these times, I long to flip a switch in my brain and shut off thought altogether!  A blank mind would be a welcome relief. I have found prayer the only means of deliverance from this state—crawling out of bed during the wee hours to kneel by my bedside and ask for help turning off the incessant drone of faithless thoughts. Fear is nearly always tangled-up in twisted twilight thoughts, which is why faith in God is the necessary antidote. “Faith and fear cannot coexist in our hearts at the same time,” said Elder Neil L. Andersen. I’ve found this to be true. Once faith conquers fear, my mind is eased and I am able to drift into a sleep of blank-minded sweetness (only to discover I finally fell asleep a half-hour before my alarm was set to go off).

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A System of Elocution, with Special Reference to Gesture, to the Treatment of Stammering, and Defective Articulation (1846) by Andrew Comstock

A blank mind may occur at other times, too—times less welcome than in the middle of the night—namely, any other hour of the day. It is helpful to have intelligent, worthwhile thoughts when one is awake. These can lead to intelligent, worthwhile conversation and discourse. Having the thoughts is one thing, expressing them verbally is another. When it comes to speaking, I am a slow processor. It does not necessarily follow to believe that a person who is skilled in, and enjoys writing, is also adept as a spontaneous speaker. In most cases, impromptu speech comes clumsily to me. If I am expected to answer a question, make intelligent remarks, or add to a conversation with any degree of clarity, I often have to contend with a blankness equal, or exceeding, that of a king-sized, white bed sheet. My hands, almost by necessity, must be involved if I have anything at all to say. They fly about in direct proportion to the intensity and strength of my motivation, but they do not (I repeat: DO NOT) in any way, assist my mouth in fluency of speech. It is only when my hands themselves are directly related to the creation of the words that they wax eloquent. I suppose if my fingers shriveled up and fell off, I would essentially, be left speechless. This leads me to the other “blank,” that of the blank page. 433099854_39c0d130c9_o

A BLANK PAGE.

Many people consider a blank page daunting—the blankness prompting questions such as, “Where do I start?” or “What do I say?” Writer’s block, artist’s block, and other forms of blankness may cause anxiety, and delay progress. For many, a blank page is as unwelcome as a blank mind. A blank page may even trigger a blank mind, or vice versa. 2bcfc60e72daf7116600c0b6ee6aebad To me, a blank page stands in direct contrast to a blank mind. A blank page flashes with opportunity, freedom, articulation, and countless other possibilities. A blank page shouts, “Just start, and see where it takes you!” My First Blog Post EVER! A physically blank page usually requires some type of physical contact by a hand-held medium—the use of paints, or a ballpoint pen. (A virtual blank page, such as a computer screen, may allow for voice activated commands, but that places me right back at square one with blank-mindedness.) When my hands become involved with the blank page—touching a keyboard, or holding a pencil—my neural network kicks into gear, bypassing my dysfunctional mouth, getting right to work. Suddenly, I am able to make coherent statements, and clear analogies. My hands, instinctively, know how to transmit and translate a madcap assortment of thoughts into a form that makes sense, sorting the superfluous from the necessary, the ridiculous from the practical, and the idiotic from the profound. download Sometimes, my hands begin typing and I’m surprised to see what they will say! I’m not kidding. As each sentence unfolds, I discover things I didn’t know I knew, or find new insights I had not consciously thought about before. Somehow, the connection flowing between mind and hands engages my spirit, causing a discernible ink of language to appear on what was, moments before, the blank, white bed sheet of my mind. I learn when I write. Words I didn’t know that I knew appear on the page. After checking with the dictionary, I am surprised and delighted to find I had used them correctly and in context. Sometimes, I discover what I really think about things, I find reaffirmations of my beliefs, and resurrected knowledge appearing before my eyes.  I find joy in the written word. Language is a gift and is beautiful—I’m speaking of virtuous, uplifting, worthy language. Sure, a commonplace, counterfeit, vulgar variety of language is always out there, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about elevated intelligence flowing into one’s spirit, enlightening and filling with joy. notebook-paper-pencil-drawing-sketch-bird-draw Language isn’t the only way to fill a blank page. My heart takes wing when drawing, sketching and creating beautiful images with pencil and paint. Swirling hues and tints in a kaleidoscopic rainbow of color add to the joy, and heighten expression. Sometimes, black and white and subtle shades of gray are required to express truth. Equally worthy to spreading joy and hope, is the expression of truth, virtue, and beauty. These form the epitome of worthy expression. Filling a blank page with things that drag down and depress may express truth, but do little to fill someone’s cup, and elevate their soul. images The same is true of a blank sheet of music manuscript paper, a silent musical instrument, an empty stage, or other worthy possibilities of expression. 2d434d834dc0b979b8c5546482e18757vk7gF Blankness is paradoxical. On the one hand, a blank page, or a blank mind, signifies muteness, while on the other hand, the same signifies an opportunity for expression. Blankness signifies an impediment, as well as a doorway to possibility. Blankness also signifies a source of anxiety, and a path to peace. This morning, I sat down to a blank page with my mind blank as to what would fill it. I let my fingers touch the keys, and watched what unfolded. It’s always exciting to see what the blank page will teach me. muscari-114577_640

If of thy mortal goods thou art bereft, and from thy slender store Two loaves alone to thee are left, Sell one, and with the dole Buy Hyacinths to feed thy Soul.

– Muslihuddin Sadi,  13th Century Persian Poet

© July 15, 2015

© July 15, 2015

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear friends, for reading.


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January’s Physics of Writing

Blog Post #22

Fresco: Sappho from Pompeii, about 60 C.E
I haven’t written for a while. Nor have I taken time to notice anything. Only when my mind is alert to subtle (and not so subtle) connections existing in the world around me, am I able to find inspiration to write. Too much stimulation can overwhelm a quiet, introverted spirit (such as mine). What is the result? My mind’s vision narrows, becoming more focused, or blurred; tuning out, instead of taking in. Some stimulation is desirable, of course, but a surge creating too much stimulation, can overpower, perhaps destroy, tender and underdeveloped thoughts, causing my brain’s circuitry to spark and short out. 


It’s the steady stream of routine flowing in and out of every day, intermittently switching-off for restful periods at night, I find most productive. Small sparks of stimulation are welcome, provided they spread themselves over days or weeks.  




Sadly, my brain ground to a dull and listless halt back in about November. Now that the speeding locomotive of holiday commotion has passed, I find myself scrambling to clean up the confusion left in its wake. Gradually, as one day rolls into the next, the dust of confusion settles into a sense of calm and predictability. My train of thoughts begins gathering momentum, chugging into action again. 



Slowly at first, the gears begin to creak and turn. Fueled by the beautiful, bright, warm weather, that—like an old friend—dropped by to sit a spell, my creative engine begins creeping along. Sporadic wanderings outdoors and idle walks through the neighborhood commence anew. I wander the backyard, looking at new growth fresh from winter rains. I touch the earth, prune the rose bushes, and pull up poor, brittle plants that failed to survive my neglect during earlier seasons. I rearrange my workroom, “The Studio,” for the first time in years. I tackle a long overdue project. I’m feeling invigorated, moving more swiftly down the tracks. I blow the whistle to announce the one or two goals I’ve already checked off my list. Pressing forward. Picking up speed. Thoughts are churning into words and images.
“The Thinker,” by Auguste Rodin

Maybe I still have something to write about, after all. I was beginning to doubt. It’s been so long. Like Michelangelo’s sculptures desperately struggling to immerge from the stone, thoughts long imprisoned in that dark, forgotten fold of my brain fight to get out. Writing is the chisel and hammer that will free the captives. I am their Michelangelo. I am the sculptor. A blank page is the marble.
Michelangelo’s “Young Slave” (unfinished sculpture)
Accademia Gallery in Florence


Today is a beginning.
Even if tomorrow doesn’t reveal a masterpiece, it will reveal a little bit of my soul.

I welcome the New Year and I welcome you! 

© January 16, 2015


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A Wonderful Life (or, When the Best Laid Plans Take a Detour)

Blog Post # 16

George Bailey (James Stewart) “It’s a Wonderful Life”


Sometimes, I feel a little like George Bailey, the main character in the 1946 film It’s a Wonderful Life. George had big dreams for his future, but a series of life events and personal choices thwarted his well-laid plans time after time. The comparison between George Bailey and my life ends there. I have never considered jumping off a bridge, nor have I had an angel step in to show me what life would be like without me. But I can relate to the detours he experienced.

When I was a little girl, I had a long list of professional aspirations that I rattled off mechanically when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up: ballerina, artist, pianist, singer, cartoonist, seamstress, interior decorator/home designer, and more. I had no qualms about pursuing all of these careers at the same time; wasn’t that normal?
“Harmony” by Bessie Pease Gutman
Somewhere, in the more secure alcoves of my heart, I also knew I would be a homemaker: a wife and mother. I never thought to include marriage in my perfunctory list. I took for granted the idea that home and family would always be a part of my life, so I thought about it as much as I thought about my heart beating. It never occurred to me that there might be detours.
“Love is Blind” by Bessie Pease Gutman

Years passed. School days flew by. One by one, I discarded some of my former career choices, relegating them to mere hobbies and interests—even disinterests. I zeroed in on an artistic target. This made sense, and felt right since almost every waking moment of my youth and young adulthood was spent with a pencil in hand. Drawing was akin to breathing—an almost involuntary reflex of life.


“A Girl Writing” by Henriette Brown

During elementary and junior high school, I loved  everything Charlie Brown and Peanuts. I even wrote a personal letter to Peanuts creator Charles M. Schultz, feeling honored to receive a personal letter of encouragement in return. I narrowed my view to becoming a cartoonist, and set to work creating comic strips. At last, after acknowledging that I wasn’t the least bit funny, I discarded the idea of becoming the next Charles Schultz.

Growing into my high school years, my interest reached to include Walt Disney, a man I had always admired, and whose imagination and creativity I revered. Reading biographies of his life, studying books on The Art of Animation, and creating an animated film for a high school project, I settled on a career as an animator. When the time came, I was hard-pressed to find a college offering courses in animation. (Today, there are many schools well equipped to prepare future animators, but when I was college age, they were rare and expensive.) With youthful energy and optimism, I did the next best thing: I started working toward an art major, figuring I could work my way up from the bottom rungs of the professional animation ladder.
Again, plans changed when I met Mr. Right  (Brad), and married after completing my second year of college. Suddenly, the career that had always stood in the wings took front and center stage: I became a wife and after a year of work, a mother. (I worked that year in a hospital of all places! Off the charts when it came to where I wanted to be).
Over a period of ten years, we accumulated five little chicks in our brood. Mother Hen was now nestled into her coop and happy to be there. Difficult as it might be for a hen to hold a pencil in her feathers, hold a pencil I did! I kept drawing and imagining I might have a career as an illustrator on the side. Anyone who has been a full-time mother of five little ones knows it requires every minute of a 24-hour day.  I was content to draw pictures for my family and for church responsibilities. I made home school materials, games, toys, posters, flyers, programs, and a multitude of greeting cards and drawings that were routinely given away.


When my husband was recovering from a serious neck injury, I found part-time work from home illustrating a children’s phonetic reading series that included illustrations for over seventy-two individual books! At last, I thought, I am fulfilling my career goal as an illustrator. At first, the work was fun. The creative juices flowed freely and I spent the wee hours of the morning drawing and inking book after book while my children slept and my husband worked the night shift. It wasn’t long before the work became repetitious and tedious. The small paycheck I garnered did little to alleviate the monotony of the job. There was a sense of satisfaction in helping our little family financially, and I was doing what I thought I wanted to do—a combination of illustration and cartooning.
 

A few of the Phonetic Readers I illustrated in the early 1990s

Hindsight truly brings clarity, and with that illustration work, I realized how monotonous working as an animator—the Old-School kind, repeatedly drawing by hand the same images over and over with only small increments of change—would have been. I was grateful I had not become an animator, for I certainly would have been on the low rungs of perpetual boredom and the professional ladder.    
Teaching a cartooning class 

With some of my students

When our children grew older, I took a job at an elementary school working with special needs children. Bringing to the school setting the knowledge I had gleaned through homeschooling, and work as an associate of an educational consultant, I found multiple opportunities to use my pencil to create art. Part of my time at school was spent working one-on-one with students. The remainder was spent writing curriculum, visually modifying materials, turning our classroom into The Big Woods, or a time machine, making theme-related costumes for the kids in our class, creating large wall murals and props, teaching an extra-curricular cartooning art class, and making the library across the hall into a magical castle. It wasn’t exactly what I had dreamed of, but I did manage to serve as an artist, seamstress, interior decorator, and, oddly enough, even as a writer, all rolled into one.

My granddaughter visited our class as Laura Ingalls 

Wall in our classroom

Adjacent schoolroom wall
Education, curriculum development and writing had never once entered my mind when I was planning my list of careers as a child, yet they became the trifold center of my semi-professional life. Like George Bailey, a series of life events and personal choices dropped me into those waters, and I swam with the current.
George Bailey taking on his father’s Building and Loan Business


Sometimes, the things we think we want are completely inconsistent with our true inner compass. The choices we make, even when they appear to be thrust upon us, are still our own choices. As difficult as it was, George Bailey made the decision to take over his father’s position at the Building and Loan office. While I had touted becoming an animator for a decade, there was certainly no coercion involved when I chose to get married instead. I chose to have children, to home school, and to take a job at the elementary school. As I seized these new opportunities, I always found ways to assert my personal gifts, and develop my interests.  I didn’t abandon the things I loved and wanted to do, I just adjusted the hats I wore when doing them, and added new interests, new horizons, new understanding, and potential skills along the way.

Through these detours, I learned I was capable of new, enjoyable and interesting things; things that were true to my inner compass. Things I had never before considered. One of the things I discovered as a result was how much I loved to write.

Hindsight is a great crystal ball. Reflecting on my past, I have been astounded at all the overlooked, misunderstood indicators in my life that pointed to writing as something I would enjoy! As a child, I spent part of my summer writing a newspaper that included crossword puzzles, recipes and stories. Over the years, I wrote, illustrated and bound many small books with hand-stitched pages for fun, and as gifts for  family members. When ten years old or so, I wrote little chapter books we now drag out every decade or two for a good laugh. One was a Nancy Drew knock-off, the others original inventions. I took copious notes all through school, and enjoyed writing poetry, and creative writing assignments. I wielded my pencil without connecting the dots that writing was as enjoyable and important to me as drawing. Strange, how I could be so blind to my own preferences.  
 

A few childhood attempts at writing

And the point of writing all this is…..? The truth is, I didn’t set out to write any of this. I sat down in front of a blank page and gave my hands permission to start typing–just for fun. And they did. For me, writing presents those rare moments when I don’t feel I have to meticulously plan everything out. 



I seldom know exactly what I’m going to write about. It’s often a surprise–full of detours. Often, topics I’ve dutifully outlined in advance struggle for a permanent position on the page. Instead of flowing, they almost immediately clog in a P-trap of muddied, stale, over-ripe thoughts and ideas. But those times when words flow out like pure waters from a pristine spring—fresh, clear, and illuminating–make writing an adventure and a joy! I discover things about myself, and things about others. I discover things I know, and things I didn’t know I knew. I discover hidden things, too—metaphors and analogies about life that develop word by word, like Polaroid snapshots.  
 

Polaroid camera and undeveloped picture


It’s good to have a plan. It’s good to aspire to worthy goals.  I believe these principles and try to live by them. It can also be good to allow for a change of plans—to see opportunities, tendencies, and desires less rigidly. Sticking to Plan A may just turn out to be a dead end, where Plan B, or C may lead to multiple doors opening to broader growth, unforeseen talents, and increased joy. Sometimes those doors are thrust upon us, and sometimes we can’t see where the door will lead. Some doors we may bolt shut because we’re too proud to admit that a door that’s different from the one of our choosing might be better. There’s always a choice involved. That choice may be as small as opening the door and walking through it, which brings us back to George Bailey.
George Bailey’s plans


George Bailey had plans—big plans! He also had choices. Compassion drove his decisions, the consequences of which sometimes caused him frustration and even despair.  But the detours he encountered also further developed and refined the goodness of his character, leading to a bevy of faithful family and friends. An illuminating door was opened—to see life without him in it—and with that epiphany, every door that led to life–regardless of pitfalls and setbacks, no matter how far from his plans—looked good to him.
 

The angel Clarence gives George a chance to see life without him in it

Like George Bailey, I began early on making plans. Big plans. My life has been full of twists and turns, and like George Bailey, around every corner there have been choices—hard choices. I have to say that, although I’m not at all where I once thought I would be, I’m so glad I’m where I am. I suspect the plans I have—that we have (Brad and I)—may detour again—in fact, we’re riding a detour right now that has brought countless joys and blessings.
Thanks, George Bailey, for reminding us that though life may not turn out as we planned, it really is a wonderful life.
© August 16, 2014


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“In Defense of Worthy Words “

Blog Post #6 (Soapbox)

Illumination
 “Refinement in speech is more than polished elocution. It results from purity of thought and sincerity of expression. A child’s prayer on occasion may reflect the language of heaven more nearly than a Shakespearean soliloquy.”  – Douglas L. Callister https://www.lds.org/ensign/2009/06/our-refined-heavenly-home?lang=eng

I love beautiful words. I love to hear words eloquently spoken. I love to read powerful and illuminating words. I love words of truth. I love words that inspire a wellspring of goodness, virtue and light.  


I know a man—a very scholarly man—whose speech is that of a farm boy. Yet this humble, quiet man speaks with power and authority. He isn’t loud or bombastic. He doesn’t sound practiced in oratory skills. His words are born of years of sacrifice, intense study, and a commitment to principles of integrity. The words that flow from his mouth are deep, sincere, quiet, simple, and ring with truth that resonates in the deepest fibers of the soul.

This post is in defense of worthy words,—not ostentatious, redundant, or vulgar words—but words that cheer, uplift and enlighten. A farm boy’s drawling speech is of far greater worth than that of a hundred skillful orators if his words transcend theirs in wisdom and truth.

Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, 
‘It might have been.”  
― John Greenleaf WhittierMaud Muller – Pamphlet


“She had always wanted words, she loved them; grew up on them. 

Words gave her clarity, brought reason, shape.” 

― Michael OndaatjeThe English Patient


  “We live and breathe words.” ― Cassandra ClareClockwork Prince



Words are important. They can alter relationships. They can bind hearts. Words are in and through every part of life. They Challenge, Inspire, Uplift, Depress, Weary, Strengthen, Appease, and Unite. Words begin and end wars.

Words are the beats in the metronome of language. When arranged in various phrases, with varying punctuation, the same words can mean completely different things, having completely different *effects.
Look at how words have shaped art, philosophy, emotion, and action: think Shakespeare and the scriptural language of Tyndale, think music lyrics and poetry, think Lincoln, Emerson, Wordsworth, and a host of others.

I’ve never understood why there are learned people who choose to pollute and dilute their communications—particularly the written word—with unworthy words. I am always especially surprised to hear and read swear words coming from a teacher, just as I’m often astonished to find a singer smoking. It’s baffling to me. It’s paradoxical. Why do they choose to do it?
A teacher, by virtue of his or her position instructing and correcting others, might at least attempt to articulate the most accurate and lucid words the English language has to offer. To teach is to model. While it’s true that actions speak louder than words, words uttered speak volumes about a person’s character.

Recently, I’ve noticed Facebook posts by a teacher I knew when I was a student in the public school system many years ago. His remarks sounded intelligent and friendly until he introduced crude and obscene words into some of his posts. At first, I thought it was just a slip of the pen, but I finally decided it was intentional. I no longer read his posts because I never know when these unwelcome surprises will surface. 

I was saddened by this revelation. Disappointed, really. For a man with a cultured persona, I couldn’t help but wonder why he would include foul language in his words to the public. He had to make a conscious choice to include obscenities. 

I realize that writing isn’t the same as speaking. When speaking, it’s easier to let inappropriate words slip out unintentionally, especially in emotionally charged situations, or when a habit of swearing already exists. A word sometimes escapes out of the mouth without thought, but unworthy spoken words are never retractable. They are like seeds in the wind, blowing wherever the wind (and people) will carry them, planting  ignoble thoughts in the minds of others.


When writing (as in a Facebook post) it’s so simple to delete or rethink words. Every word is retractable, exchangeable, and erasable. It’s easy to find relevant and appropriate words on the computer with Google and a thesaurus only a click away.
 

Visual Thesaurus for “word”


I guess I hold teachers to a higher standard of communication than the average person. Not because I think they’re better than others are, but because they should know better than others do by virtue of their position among those “enlightened by knowledge.” They should value the beauty and utility of language enough to use the most descriptive and accurate words for any given situation. They should respect those they once taught, and those they continue to influence, by holding their torch for the written word a little higher than average.
In my mind, using expletives demonstrates a lack of mastery of the English language. A person who uses expletives and vulgarities to express a wide range of emotions and descriptions reveals a limited vocabulary. Of all people, a teacher should value the example they set when it comes to word usage. After all, words, and word usage form a primary part of their job description. Communicating ideas, concepts, facts, principles and ideals is a high and noble occupation.

Plato, the teacher of Aristotle
from “The School of Athens” by Raphael

Would a professional athlete, such as Michael Jordan, purposely fumble or mishandle the ball on court? Wouldn’t it outrage his adoring fans? Wouldn’t that set him up for ridicule? Wouldn’t he infuriate his employers? I may be wrong, but I doubt he would allow himself to consider doing such a thing. It would be a humiliation to his high personal standards of performance. I think he would always perform to the best within himself. 
Why do we expect less of teachers? They are professionals. They are every bit role models for those in their sphere of influence as athletes are in theirs. Teachers who purposely use foul language show a slovenly contempt for the highest ideals of education they represent. They trample beautiful language under their feet while elevating the weakest, most deplorable form of speech. 


 “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, 

we seek after these things.” 

– Joseph Smith13th Article of Faith 

I love beautiful language. I love eloquent speech. I am not eloquent in speaking myself. I often trip over my tongue. I am verbose. I can say nothing in a million words. Perhaps it is better to speak simply—or to remain quiet—than to impugn one’s own character, while showing a lack of respect for those around you with unworthy, vulgar and profane language.
I have deep respect for most teachers. I’ve worked among them. I know how many strive to use worthy and appropriate words, and to live a high standard of behavior—“to walk their talk.” In reality, we are all teachers. Someone somewhere is watching us, listening to us, noting our example, and maybe doing and saying as we do. 

I hope my words are always worthy ones.

*See Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss


© Copyright May 15, 2014