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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.

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Thoughts on the Healthy Writer

Health is related to writing. All areas of health. And conversely, today my writing is very specifically related to health. The two, I have found, are closely entwined. I wrote very little when my health was at its worst. I did entertain thoughts of writing when first diagnosed—lots of time during recovery and chemotherapy to write that new novel. Some writers, tougher than me, have used similar circumstances in just that way, I’m sure. Writers with full-time day jobs, perhaps especially. When else is a chunk of time that big going to show up, unplanned for, unasked? The time, and privately, I even thought, the added depth of character this new ordeal was going to provide me with, could be put to good use. Hadn’t I been too overwhelmed with responsibilities to focus on my writing of late?
It all made good sense until the surgery came, and then the six months of chemo. I was on one mode, and it wasn’t writer mode. It way surviving the effects of cancer treatment by laying on the couch mode. I couldn’t even read a book. Well, I did write some CaringBridge blogposts that kept my family and friends informed of my progress and helped me sort out my hopes and fears. But the novel never came. For me, it just didn’t pan out. I had time, but no energy, no ability to concentrate, no creative spark.
Today’s short piece is inspired by that connection, with appreciation and gratitude for the gift of health I am experiencing right now. I took a gorgeous long walk this afternoon past the wooded hills and ready-for-harvesting fields of corn near my cottage. I was stepping pretty lively, sucking in the newly changed chill in the air, and smiling my ass off! And now, as directed (Blogging101), I’m writing.
Tomorrow is Froedtert Day. Froedtert is a hospital/medical center in Milwaukee, WI, USA. It’s pronounced ”fray dirt.” I am new to Wisconsin and Froedtert, but not to the fray. In California, where I used to live, I began my cancer journey. Having a rare form of a rare cancer made me feel uncertain during diagnosis and treatment. Had my doctor ever actually treated this before? This type of cancer isn’t call one of the “orphan diseases” for nothing.
Though I was well taken care of, I always had questions that went nowhere. We are monitoring you closely and believe you have an excellent prognosis. I came to accept this answer, but I never stopped scouring the internet for detailed information. There isn’t much out there, at least not that I was able to find.
Enter Froedtert. With final instructions from my California docs to find an oncologist and get some new tests and scans done when I reached Wisconsin, I began my search. One of my husband’s coworkers suggested Froedtert, as his wife had been successfully treated for cancer there. And it was covered by our insurance. Good enough, I thought. Looking over their website at cancer specialists, I couldn’t believe it. An actual, honest to God Appendiceal cancer specialist was listed on staff.
Fast forward. I got an appointment with this man, this very nice, personable, intellectual giant of a doctor, and in less than forty-five minutes had all three years of my accumulated goblet cell specific questions answered, my tests scheduled and all of them carefully explained. Some done religiously in California weren’t needed at this time; others not done regularly, were.
I go in tomorrow for those tests. One short week later, I’ll see my oncologist again, and he’ll suggest a plan for the future. The future! I am nervous in a whole new way, actually excited to get on with it, believing that a veil has been lifted. I’m several chapters into writing that new book. Out of the fray, and hitting pay dirt.
Mahalo!

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A Little Memoir Madness

“Mr. Wonderful”

The first time I now remember hearing Keely Smith sing “Mr. Wonderful” was the first time of many I heard my mother truly weep.  I was four-years-old and I knew that song had once been a happy song but that now it was sad, sadder than anything I had yet encountered.  Sadder than the day my dog, Ginger, died.  It played over and over on the big maple stereo in the living room, and it became scratched and skipped in places, while Mom sat motionless in a chair looking out the window, or while she paced around the kitchen, coffee cup in hand, or while she lay on the floor and I held a warm wet washcloth to her forehead just the way Aunt Mary had carefuly taught me.  And it played while I tried not to look at her eyes, which were vacant and blue and dripping tears in a constant stream that mixed with the warm water from the cloth that my hands were too small to squeeze.  The music played. A lovely song.  And my mother was ruined forever and life would never be good again.  I may have been four-years-old, but I knew it.

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Who I Am and Why I Blog

I’m a writer, and I blog to sharpen my skills, learn what readers and writers alike are experiencing, explore my own writer’s path, and perhaps most importantly, to celebrate all aspects of living a literary life!

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