Archive for March, 2010

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I Don’t Know What to Call It, but I’m Celebrating Anyway

March 31, 2010

I’m not going to be caught around here for any fool celebration. To hell with birthdays!
• Norman Rockwell

I’m not celebrating my birthday today (it’s in September–mark your calendar!), nor am I commemorating my anniversary. That was Monday. No. Today is my 200th post since last fall when I decided to add this daily experiment in creative persistence to my already busy enough schedule.

I teach a course in classroom creativity and much of my work as an educator and a human being focuses on both personal creativity and on the ways in which leaders of all kinds in and out of the classroom can make room for—and truly nurture—the creative spirits of the people with whom they work. (Note: being creative yourself is often easier than nurturing it in others since that can require you to put your desired outcomes aside to allow room for others to add theirs.)

Tomorrow I’ll finish the D.O.L.I.F.E., but today I want to bask in accomplishment and share a few insights from this persistence:

• Nothing that has to be done repetitively is always fun. See what I’ve written about drudgery in earlier posts. No matter how delightful a task is, if the sun rises and you have to do it again and then again and then once more, you may wish you’d never begun.

• If you decide to do something like this, it takes on a life of its own. I have a huge pile of possibilities of things to write about now and I cannot read or listen or view without thinking about it.

• I could be much better at this if I were able to devote real time to it, but every time I do, I realize how much time it’s sucking from other things that I really need to be doing, making this blog an ongoing procrastinatory project, thus linking it to my study of procrastination, which makes it less of a time-waster and more purposeful, doesn’t it?

• I am discovering how truly adept I am at interlinking all of my interests and finding uses for the seemingly useless. I am becoming particularly good at finding other uses for these posts and making them an integral part of my teaching life. I have realized on re-reading, for example, that some of the posts will fit into courses I teach. I just used some in handouts for a conference presentation. Combining the want to with the have to is one way to integrate your life. This work gives me a concrete way to illustrate that integration.

• I am learning to be okay with mediocrity. It makes me sad even to word process those words, but there are days when I truly don’t have the time to devote to saying something significant (okay, there are LOTS of days when this is true as any regular reader would probably notice). There are other days, however, when I thought that I didn’t have time and I whip something out and I find, on later rereading, that I said something significant. Go figure.

• If you want to learn something about your writer’s quirks, do some regular writing and then reread it. You will shrink in horror as well as pat yourself on the back in celebration of your cleverness. I’m hoping you’ll be able to do more patting than shrinking!

If a celebration of a 200th anniversary is a bicentennial, what DO you call a 200th post celebration?

What can you celebrate today? It doesn’t have to be big or important—just something you’re delighted by or happy about.

Sometimes people get mad at The Simpson’s subversive story telling, but there’s another message in there, which is a celebration of making wild, funny stories.
• Matt Groening

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E Stands for Many Things, Including the Quickly Approaching End of My Desperately Optimistic L.I.F.E. Advice

March 30, 2010

Elephants, eggplant, egregious exaggerations, elemental enjoyment, epiphany, endlessly entertaining earthworms, eclecticism, earmuffs—the e list is practically endless, but alas, none of these things is the focus of today’s post. The e word I’m thinking of is—ta dah!—education.

If you are a student and a parent or grandparent or uncle or aunt or just a good friend to school-age children, this is one of the few times in your life when you and the children in your life will be going through the same kinds of experiences. If you aren’t a parent but plan to be one some day, you’re finally old enough to approach school mindfully and develop a few success hints of your own.

Here are some things you can do:

• Model the value of learning for its own sake; share your enthusiasm, the joy of doing a quality job, how to study, how to prioritize and organize, and other study skills. Be deliberate and vocal about your choices.

• Share your own experiences and struggles, framing them in a positive way so that younger folks with whom you share them will see your resiliency and learn about effective and proactive studenting. I learned this the hard way when I heard my own “_______ (fill in the subject here) sucks” comment that I shared privately—I thought—with my husband repeated by my son. I’m not recommending that you be inauthentic, but just that you remember that your passing comment may mean more to a younger listener that it did to you.

• Practice being proactive in your interactions with teachers and staff. Role play problem-solving. It was my oldest son who suggested that I “surrender” to a professor, complete with waving white flag, after he refused to take a TYPED (not word processed) paper with a cover sheet. I’d forgotten that he wanted NO cover sheets and that all pertinent information needed to be on the first page of the paper. These extra mandatory five lines of type would have thrown off the paper’s requisite top and bottom margins and required me to retype close to thirty pages. The surrender worked. He laughed and took the paper, cover page and all.

• Solicit the input of family and friends when you have a problem—perhaps even seek faculty advice too (she suggests a bit snarkily). Beware of awfulizing or blaming. Model clear and productive thinking. You don’t have to take advice just because you get it, so be nice too—no mockery or sarcasm or that-won’t-workery. Too much of this and you’ll lose all your allies.

Tomorrow, the end of D.O.L.I.F.E., but not the end of my advice since I have an almost Endless supply!

What are three insights you’ve had about being successful in school that you would share with someone younger than you to help guide their success?

And an E for Effort quotation: There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.
• Beverly Sills

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Things that Don’t Work in the Desperately Optimistic L.I.F.E.

March 29, 2010

The final part of the F of L.I.F.E. focuses on things not to do related to family and friends. Actually, these things that don’t work apply at any point in life since it’s all too easy to get overinvolved in just about anything from community theatre to sports to video games to internet surfing to volunteer activities to a job to whatever it is that consumes your time if you let it.

• Don’t put your life on hold when you’re in school and don’t expect your family or friends to do so either. If you’re a parent, this includes expecting your children to make few demands on your time and to understand that your goals will ultimately mean more for them (more you and perhaps more money). It isn’t likely that even teenagers will be developmentally ready to understand, and even if they were, it isn’t good for you or for them if you don’t maintain strong connections despite your busy life.

• Don’t expect your spouse or partner or friends to ask for little for themselves while continuing to be supportive of your goals. Anticipate that others may feel neglected or hurt by your unavailability (physically, emotionally, and in other ways). Understand that your fatigue is likely to affect your relationships too.

• Don’t expect everyone to understand why you can’t plan ahead for leisure time. Or to understand why you don’t have time for the details of daily life that you may be trying to let go of. Expect and allow for grousing from time to time. Try a whine-a-ton when it seems like everyone’s on edge. Hold a pity party complete with cake and ice cream and bemoan the rotten state of things.

Finally, a do. Do laugh with those you care about. Laughter matters and shared laughter unites people.

What consumes your time and how do you make time for other things that matter too?

More men are killed by overwork than the importance of the world justifies.
• Rudyard Kipling

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More F Stuff from Living the Desperately Optimistic L.I.F.E.

March 28, 2010

Live and work but do not forget to play to have fun in life and really enjoy it.
• Eileen Caddy

I’m sure that you can come up with plenty of ways to stay involved with family and friends while you’re in school. I’m also certain that you can figure out how to have fun. I’m just reminding you of things you already know and giving you official permission to do them.

• If you want to keep others in your life, Llsten. Pay attention. Apologize when it’s necessary.

• Looking for fun? Consider a flip-a-coin adventure drive on a free day. Get into the car and flip a coin to decide which direction to head in. Continue doing this at every sensible opportunity (seriously, do use a bit of common sense here and don’t plunge into a forest on a dirt road). You never know what you’ll see or where you’ll end up—even when you’re being sensible—so you also have to be prepared and be prepared to be happy whatever the results. Take some snacks and water along in case your adventuring takes you away from civilization or nothing is open.

• Visits to the grocery store or the dollar store can be fun if everyone is charged with getting something that all the others will enjoy.

• Treat your family and close friends with consideration. Be kind. Be gentle. Don’t expect them to be superhuman. Don’t expect them to plan their lives around your availability and the demands of school. Treat them as individuals and make time for them individually.

• When you’re ready to veg out, consider using the time to connect with someone. Do things that involve others actively rather than passively.

• If you have children, have fun with them and make it their kind of fun, whatever their age. Swing. Jump into puddles. Play music really loud. Sing along. Dance. Fingerpaint with chocolate pudding. Cook together. Have water balloon fights. Play hide ‘n’ seek. Ask them what they’d like to do. Come to think of it, these things are fun for grownups too.

Tomorrow: a few don’ts.

When you’re activating your childlike spirit, what do you like to do?

I cannot even imagine where I would be today were it not for that handful of friends who have given me a heart full of joy. Let’s face it, friends make life a lot more fun
• Charles R.Swindoll

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More F from the D.O.L.I.F.E.: No Matter How Tempting It Is to Use Newly-Acquired Vocabulary with Your Family and Friends, Curb Your Cursing

March 27, 2010

The foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing is a vice so mean and low that every person of sense and character detests and despises it.
• George Washington

A digression: When I first went to college and was still living at home with my parents and four younger siblings, I was grounded for a month for saying the word “damn.” I was a clean-mouthed girl, trained by my Grandma Wilkins who believed in washing her grandchildrens’ mouths out with soap. I learned pretty quickly not to say the swear words I learned from grandpa and his friends. Other kinds of verbal infractions were punished by adhesive tape over the mouth. That wasn’t nearly as bad as holding a bar of soap in my mouth while grandma lectured.

When I went back to school to become a teacher, I was an adult who still didn’t swear—a good example for my children. Then I began working in middle and high schools. It was f-in’ this and f-in’ that and the all-purpose use of the f-word for just about every part of speech. I quickly became inured to the sound. I got so comfortable that I adopted it myself, not really noticing until my oldest son said rather wistfully, “Mom, you sure do say f@#$ a lot.”

He was right, and I tried to stop. I still haven’t been completely successful in eradicating it, but here’s my advice if you’re a student: Practice watching your language now since the workplace operates by a different set of verbal rules. It can be very difficult to retrain yourself once you’ve opened the mouth’s floodgates and let yourself go.

More F advice:

• Food. Do eat breakfast and make sure your family does too. Let go of the idea of what’s proper breakfast food. If you like it or your family does and it’s healthy, it really doesn’t matter what it is. Tuna sandwiches, pizza, yogurt and fruit sundaes, toasted cheese sandwiches, soup, and lots of other things were regular breakfasts for us. Set the table the night before if you won’t be home and leave some encouraging words for your family to read as they eat.

• Frolic. Create end-of-the-term or paper/project’s done or other kinds of celebrations for you and your family and friends. Have rituals. I’ve mentioned these mirthdays and sillybrations before. My youngest son’s best memories from my college days were going to the grocery store on a Friday or Saturday night for a Popsicle® or Dove Bar®. I’m probably a rotten mom for letting him stay up keeping me company and fixing me tea, but these were special times for both of us. (My husband was an early a.m. radio announcer at the time—in bed by 8 p.m.)

• Fun. Save for common goals related to having fun together. It’s surprising what you’ll have at the end of a term if you pass up having a latte or soft drink or occasional bagel or candy bar. Enlist family in saving too and put the money into a savings jar. We used this money for cheap mini-vacations, but one year, we saved all year and went to Disneyland. Sad to say, this was in the good old days when a summer night passport went for $40.00 apiece. Alas, those days are finito.

Tomorrow, more F.

What do you—could you—do for fun with those you care about?

Live life fully while you’re here. Experience everything. Take care of yourself and your friends. Have fun, be crazy, be weird.
• Anthony Robbins

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Fun, Family, and Friends: The F of a Desperately Optimistic L.I.F.E.

March 26, 2010

Little children disturb your sleep; big ones, your life.
• Yiddish saying

Creating and maintaining a support system is an important aspect of student success. While it’s true that you’re the one doing the work, it’s also true that everyone else in your life, from your family to your co-workers to your friends, is also involved. The way you treat them and your acknowledgement of their importance to your success matters.

• Childhood slips away. Whomever the children in your life are—your own, nieces and nephews, grandchildren, even the children of your friends who have become your friends too—they will change swiftly. When you don’t see adult relatives or friends for six months, you may feel that little has changed when you get together. When you don’t see a child or adolescent for six months, a whole new person may appear. If you’re a parent, it’s particularly important to stay involved with your family, but even friendships need nurturing.

• Big kids may seem self-sufficient, but they still need love and attention. Ditto for spouses, partners, and other relationships.

• Make a household action plan that includes everything that everyone needs to do: your homework, others’ homework, shopping, paying bills, staying in touch with grandparents, walking the dog, etc., etc., etc. Don’t forget the minutiae when you are making the list. Parcel out the work, assigning and rotating duties whenever possible, especially if they’re things no one wants to do. Don’t entrust anyone with something at which they’ve been proven to be incompetent. You know in your heart who needs to balance the checkbook and no amount of wishful thinking is likely to change things. Accept and appreciate people in your life for what they can do and avoid expending energy wishing they were different.

• Create bedtime rituals if you have children and be there for bedtime as often as you can. Rituals smooth things out so that when everyone is finally down you aren’t so frazzled you can’t concentrate. Get everything ready for the next day and settle kids into bed gently. Night classes? Leave a pillow note. Record a book so they can hear your voice. Gone for an early morning class? Put a Post-It® greet-the-day message on the bathroom mirror.

• Develop morning routines that begin the night before. We used crates by the door—each person got one and everything that needed to go back to school the next day was put into that person’s crate the night before along with reminders of things like permission slips and money for field trips.

• Get clothing for the next day ready the night before for everyone. I still do this. I get everything I’ll be wearing the next week ready on Sunday evening. It gives me an extra five or ten minutes to read in bed in the morning and ease my way into the day. Sometimes my children wanted to wear the same thing endlessly. I quit caring about the lack of variety and taught them to wash their own clothes. This is when dryer ironing evolved too.

• Make time to have fun. Take a walk. Go to the movies. Sit on the porch. Even a ten-minute break can connect you with someone and will send you back to your studies refreshed.

More F tomorrow.

How do you stay connected to your family and friends?

To us, family means putting your arms around each other and being there.
• Barbara Bush

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It’s Still All About You—The I of the Desperately Optimistic L.I.F.E.

March 25, 2010

Invent your world. Surround yourself with people, color, sounds, and work that nourish you.
• Sark

My office is an art installation I call Things That Make Me Smile and I live in The House of Stuff (located at Happy Rabbits Farm, where ideas grow like rabbits), home to The Amuseum of Un-Natural History. Even as a small child, my room was an explosion of things that interested and amused me. Creating a pleasing personal workspace, whatever that means to you, is important to success in school. It can help you stay focused.

Sometimes, the only place I could get away from family life was in the bathroom. Sometimes I needed more distance and worked in the school library, but even there, I found a quiet place where I could make myself at home with small reminders that brought a grin to my face and that also kept me reminded of the bigger picture of my academic aspirations: the lucky clipboard from my son with a family picture taped underneath the paper, my favorite kind of pen, 3×5 notecards in case I discovered wonderful quotations, a box of Jujubes (a childhood evocateur and lo-cal treat—just don’t chew if you want to keep your teeth!), and a very small rubber alligator.

It’s impossible not to smile when there’s a gator grinning at you from a stack of books. Here’s some other “I” advice from the D.O.LIFE:

• I know that letting go was the L, but this is so important: You don’t have to do everything. Learning to do things for themselves is valuable for everyone in your life. I used to tell my sons that no one would want to take care of them when they grew up. They have both found this to be true whether they are in or out of relationships, and are glad that they know how to do laundry, clean, decorate, iron, cook, and just generally take care of themselves.

• Even five-year-olds can be taught to sew on buttons. Decide what needs to be done and who can do it. If you have infants, they probably can’t do anything, but even a toddler can do more than you imagined if you aren’t picky. And children do get older, rather quickly!

• My husband and I advocated for a change from “room mother” to “room parent” at one of our children’s schools when my husband took over duties I’d carried for years. I include this here in the I section as a reminder that you do not have to continue with traditional activities when you’re in school. Say no to things you don’t have time for and don’t shift them onto others unless they are willing.

• Be honest with others about the demands school places on your time. Don’t promise to go on a picnic the day before a big something is due, hoping you’ll be done with school assignments early. This kind of optimistic thinking is often wrong and you’ll find yourself stressed. Either you’ll disappoint someone or you’ll be up all night getting your work done after a picnic where your smile hid the anxiety you were feeling about what you really ought to be doing instead.

• Save yourself and your energy for the things that really matter. Don’t expend energy on things that don’t. So easy to say. So difficult to do.

Being creatively selfish doesn’t mean you ignore the others in your life. It doesn’t mean that you never sacrifice personal time and energy for someone who needs you. In fact, if those others are your children, you have an obligation to take care of their needs as well as your own. It’s very easy, though, to slip into doing for others when they could be doing for themselves and benefitting from, both the opportunity to take care of themselves and the opportunity to help you out a bit as well. Tomorrow, the F of L.I.F.E.

How do you integrate some creative selfishness into your life?

I know what’s best for me; after all, I have been in the Claudette Colbert business longer than anybody.
• Claudette Colbert