Category Archives: Teacher

My Teaching Voice

Since leaving Lake Arrowhead three years ago I’ve been having trouble hanging on to my voice. And not just my voice really, but also my words. Sentences and paragraphs and pages of text I should be writing but that I push aside for a good novel or a movie or a great new recipe involving bacon, sweet potatoes, rigatoni, mascarpone cheese and fresh sage (this, a recent distraction—the dishes are still soaking in the sink).

I’m sure it’s not only that I am in mourning.

Some of my writing inertia could be due to a mind busy with other things—new things, like teaching college speech and all that entails… learning innovative technologies, tackling a new curriculum, slugging through online faculty required “teaching”courses, trying to lacquer my wild mane into some semblance of what my imagination believes a professor’s hair should look like…oh so many time consuming diversions.

Still, I know I should also be writing creatively.

I’m sure it’s not only that I am in mourning.

When I left Lake Arrowhead, a pain planted itself firmly behind my breast plate and I can’t shake it. I can’t walk it off, though my dear husband and I take many beautiful nature walks every single week. I can’t read it off, though I take time to immerse myself in many an enjoyable book. I can’t yoga it off, or massage it off, or wine it off. It is sewn in, gorilla glued, bolted; it is chained to my heart.

But that cannot be the only reason I do not write.

I did, in fact, write quite a bit a year and more back. (The book is about Lake Arrowhead.)

SouthernCAjuly2015 001

Lake Arrowhead, CA

But I’m sure it’s not only that I am mourning.

I adore Wisconsin, and the weather here suits us perfectly. The vast greenness of the place in summer, the orange-red-yellow-green autumns, the take your breath away white frozen winters. A lake so big it looks Pacific. Lake Arrowhead, amplified.

Mourning comes to some of us for a visit. For me, without my children and my grandchildren, it stays. It has moved in to the quaint little Cape Cop home on the tree-lined avenue where we now live. It’s here to stay.

There, I’ve said it.

Missing Lake Arrowhead means missing a million moments that can never be regained—with my kids, with my grandchildren, with my friends, with all the people I was so fortunate to know. And as much as I love the cardinals and Canadian geese (and I love them a lot!), there is something sad about knowing that I will never happen upon a bear or be awakened in the night by the ungodly howl of a pack of coyotes closing in on its prey.

So, my voice began to falter a while back and has gone somewhat quiet of late.

My husband began to worry, so I finally forced myself to sit and write tonight, but as little as this accomplishment is, and as much as I love him, I cannot give him much of the credit for bringing me to my chair, for opening the blank page, for placing my fingers on the keys and letting them speak for me, expose me, help me… nor can I take any of the credit myself.

It came not from knowing that I should do it, it came instead as a magical gift from a miraculous profession.

Teaching.

Thinking I needed more family photos on my office walls, I drove over to Walgreens this afternoon to pick up some photographs I had ordered. They are beautiful photos of our newest granddaughter, Adaline Lorene, and her big sister, Jasmine, who visited us here in Wisconsin this past June.

As you can see, they are worth the ache. My girls.

     Anyway.

On my way back out to the car I stopped to ask a young man (who was coughing uncontrollably as if he might be choking) if I could help him. Just a simple, “Are you okay? Can I do anything?”

The young woman next to him, obviously his companion, said, “I recognize that voice! Do you remember me?”

The coughing continued, but she ignored it. She walked toward me. “I heard your voice and I said, ‘That’s my speech teacher!””

Of course, I remembered her, a lovely person and a good public speaker, animated and organized. We hugged. Her manfriend, ignored, coughed his way unaided to their car.

“Does he need help?” I asked. “Does he need the Heimlich? Because I’ll do it.”

“He’ll be fine,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see you.”

She recognized my voice. Here, in Kenosha, a town of roughly 100,000 people. She recognized my voice.

It seems silly, perhaps. To place so much value on recognition. But I do. I suddenly felt a little less alone. The sharing of a past. In Lake Arrowhead, a teacher never goes out without encountering a former or present student, which sometimes unnerved me. I never realized how important it was to my self-image, to my belief that I was connected to the community. I knew that I loved my students, but I didn’t perhaps understand how much I needed them.

Today I was given back a small piece of my voice, reflected through a young woman’s memory. I still feel the pain, I still crave the everyday closeness of my grandchildren, and I still miss the bears, but I can write, and that’s a soft and soothing salve for my soul. I’ll take it.

FallWinter2015Mostly 200

Advertisements

10 Comments

Filed under Depression, Gratitude, Lake Arrowhead, Nature, Reading, Teacher, Voice, Wisconsin, Writing, Writing Advice

“Reading with Ghosts” Some thoughts on a post by Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess: “Sometimes tattered and worn = loved” August 9, 2016

FallWinter2015Mostly 200

Like Jenny, I love used books, books that have a history of relationship with other readers that I can see and hold in my hands. The cover doesn’t need to be in great shape. There should be a name written in long hand somewhere within the first pages. Notes written in the margins. Words, phrases, paragraphs underlined. Exclamation marks, hearts, question marks in the margins. Old shopping lists stuck between the pages. Dedications to lovers, children, grandchildren, friends on the title page. This book reminds me of how very much I love being your mom.

Despite my librarian grandmother, my own library training and teacher training, and my years working in libraries and public schools, I’ve always been much more of a book sharer than a book protector. This doesn’t mean I condone random doodling, especially not of the tasteless variety, or nasty vulgarisms of any sort in any book (and I’ve seen plenty of those, believe me). And I am not advocating writing in any book that you do not own—please, respect all library books, and school texts! But I do appreciate a pithy comment that pertains to the content. I love knowing that I am sharing the experience of reading a particular piece with someone who found something striking enough to comment on right then and there, in the moment.Paris, 2013 154

Jenny Lawson says, “…reading those found books is like reading with ghosts, ones who eagerly point out their favorite passages or share their thoughts or questions in the margins.”

Books that I can remember writing in that are sitting around my house right now include:

Jane Eyre, A Prayer for Owen Meany, The Catcher in the Rye (probably my first!), The Diary of Anne Frank, Man’s Search for Meaning, Teacher Man, Rebecca, Atonement, Prodigal Summer, The Glass Castle, Learning to Walk in the Dark, and lots of poems—“The Raven” comes to mind along with some of Shakespeare’s sonnets. And memorably, the teacher edition of a literature anthology I used in my classroom for many years (not sure if this qualifies as defacing a public school text, but it did raise a few eyebrows during department meetings).

Funny story there. I was told, “That’s not your book! You can’t write in that!” back in 1998 by a wonderful teacher I respected and admired. Even so, I continued to write in the book. I planned on outlasting the book adoption cycle, and I wanted to remember what worked, what went flat, what insights, funny or touching, or what “light bulb” moments were expressed by my kids. When I retired in 2014 a young English teacher retrieved the same teacher anthology from the school library that I had written notes in for years. There hadn’t been a new book adoption in all of those years because the budget was just too tight for the district to purchase a new anthology. This new teacher wrote me a letter. “What a treasure!” she said. “Thank you for writing all of that down.”

A reader after my own heart. A teacher after my own heart. I hope she never forgets to write in the margins.Paris, 2013 108

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Commentary, HIstorical Fiction, Humor, Jenny Lawson's Blog, Literary Fiction, Teacher, Used Books, Writing, Writing Advice

Scanxiety

billyandloribabes

I belong to an appendix cancer support group, and one of the non-words I see quite often in posts is scanxiety, a condition related to the anxiety felt about medical scans that are given regularly for an indefinite amount of time after cancer treatment. In the beginning my scans were spaced three months apart; now they are six months apart. I’ve gotten good at coping with the anxiety nowadays (four years post diagnosis) most of the time, but when I get to the day before testing, as I have today, I find my mind casting away from anything productive.

My creativity is gone. I can’t concentrate on writing my novel or even reading someone else’s novel. I want to talk about it, but I don’t want to sound like a hypochondriac. I don’t want to seem negative. I don’t want to be told not to worry, everything will be fine. Even though I know it probably will be.

IMG_0679 This photo depicts my usual outlook on life, and was taken on my beloved mountain. This is not to say that I don’t love, love, love Wisconsin!

The thing is, I’ve never gotten over that initial out of nowhere diagnosis. I can only say that I feel vulnerable to invasion, or worse, that I feel like an unknowing host. I don’t understand cancer. There are so many different kinds of cancer, so many different treatments, so many different outcomes. Mine, Goblet Cell Adenocarcinoid Cancer of the Appendix, is supposed to be quite rare. It doesn’t seem so rare when I read the stories in my support group.

Sometimes I think I should drop out of the group; it reminds me daily of something I should not dwell upon. I believe in the power of positive thinking, and maybe reading the very real cancer stories, takes some of my shine away. But I also think that I should buck up—you know, be there for those who ask for a prayer or just need to vent and need to know someone out there really hears them.

I rarely participate in any length, usually just a word or two. Others in the group are much better at knowing what to say. Quite a few of them even offer up-to-the-minute cutting edge medical information, where the best hospitals are, how to connect with an appendix cancer specialist, the ins and outs of health insurance, tumor markers, treatment experiences—all sorts of really important information. I can’t help but feel I haven’t found a place of usefulness within the group.

And here I am tonight, inexplicably sad about the way that cancer changed my life and knowing I might be able to get some help from the group if I could just express myself without sounding like an infant. Most of the posts I read are written by or for those of us who are currently in the throes of the worst of the disease—those reeling and just diagnosed, those going in for their 2nd, or 3rd, or 4th surgery. Those who are in palliative care. The loved ones of those recently passed who write to break the news to the group.

And here I am feeling pretty darn good. I am one of the lucky ones. Makes me feel like a phony just wallowing in a selfish bout of survival guilt. And yet. And yet I am sad. Sad that my life changed so drastically since my initial appendicitis attack. The appendicitis that turned out to be hiding cancer.

Four years ago I was a teacher living on a mountain, surrounded by family, friends, students, colleagues, and neighbors that I loved. My four grandchildren all lived within a few miles of me.

That is not to say that my life is not good today, but it has changed dramatically. I miss my old life. I miss my kids. The circumstances of my life after cancer and my second surgery have impacted almost every aspect of my personal life and my career. Not all of it is bad, but some of it is. I’m not going to lie.

Paris to home 2013 085

Sometimes survival calls for sacrifice, or at least that’s the way I’ve come to wrap my mind around it. Maybe it’s nothing as noble sounding as that. Maybe I just got lazy. Teaching, one of my great passions, had always required great energy, energy that I no longer seemed able to summon. I was eligible for retirement. My husband needed work and found a good position in another state. My tumor marker tests showed increasing evidence of cancer at the cellular level, yet my scans were clear.

I’m not sure what tipped the scale and brought us to this new place. Maybe it was down deep merely an urge to run, something I’d done plenty of times in my earlier years. Grief over my brother’s death, financial hardship, chemo-brain, depression, debilitating chronic health issues, fear of recurrence…all of these things and more must have played a part. I only know for sure that the world changed after my diagnosis.

That’s the thing about cancer. It sneaks up on you. I had no idea that I had cancer until I went in for my post-operative check after my appendicitis surgery. And that’s probably the root of my malaise. If I didn’t know I had it then…

Scanxiety.

I’m grateful for what I have; I still have love and family, however far away some of my loved ones are, and I will be forever grateful for what I have had. Nothing can take that away.

Mahalo.GrandmaJazz

3 Comments

Filed under Cancer, Cancer Journey, Patient Advice and Support, Support Groups, Teacher, Writing

The Joy of Teaching Beyond the Classroom: An Open Letter to My Former Students

August from Cell 2014 290Making the decision to retire from the classroom was one of the most difficult I ever made. Though teachers experience their fair share of discomfort, disillusionment, and sometimes even heart break, this teacher madly loved the job.  Loved the studies that brought me to the profession, loved the planning, the research, the sheer delight of living a life devoted to education.  I loved my colleagues, my books, my classroom with those huge windows and the long metal pole it took an expert to hook into the forty-year-old locks so that we could let in the air, and sometimes the snowflakes.  Those windows overlooked the playground, sports field, and elevated neighborhood behind it.  I remember well the pain of coming back after one of our wildfires to see that neighborhood largely destroyed, blackened, treeless, and empty.  The subsequent rebuilding, and the return of families and new green life.  I loved the bells.  I loved hall duty, laughing with my friends and all of those fresh young backpack laden rebels.  Mostly, I loved you, my kids.

Each year I remember telling my classes that their eighth grade year was going to race by, that before we all knew it, we’d be saying goodbye. And sure enough, those months did disappear quickly, relentlessly leading us to the last day of school, when I proudly sent you all off to high school.  But I always knew I’d still see you around the mountain, and that you’d sneak into my classroom during seventh period for a quick hug, looking all big and different and like a more defined version of the person I’d laughed with, explained the differences between colons and semi-colons to, crafted with, making things like Poe Ravens to decorate the doorway, and cried with over Anne Frank’s capture.  You were growing up.

When school started this year for the first time without me, I cried. Not only was I not in school, I wasn’t even in the same state.  Tough times, kids!  But I realized something this morning, had an epiphany when I got a message from a student I taught some ten years back.  Hey, Mrs. P. I wrote a book; would you read it and give me your opinion? 

Heck, yes! Social media may be discouraged by some, particularly high level administrators worried about possible sticky situations, and I understand that, but for me, your old teacher caught between California and the Midwest, wondering if I did enough when I had the chance, it is a lovely lifeline.  You send me messages, post pictures of your accomplishments, funny moments, likes and dislikes.  I get a lot of dog pictures.  And I love it!  So, I just wanted to say, you are all remarkable human beings, every one of you.  So I guess once a teacher, always a teacher.  And I thank God for that.

Carpe Diem! Mrs. P.

Leave a comment

Filed under Relationship, School, Teacher