Thick and Thin

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted an entry, as I’ve been working to get acclimated to my new job as an instructor at S.P.C. Also, I haven’t had a topic that’s gotten me interested enough to write about, and I didn’t want to write a political post here, as I’ve found that the quickest way to lose readers is talk politics.

But, I want to talk about something that’s been in my life for a long time that I struggle with even today–it’s been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve not talked a lot about it on here before and I think it’s time to say something: my weight.

As you may have noticed, I’m a big dude. In fact, I currently weigh somewhere between 285 and 288 pounds. I wear large enough clothing that it’s getting to the point where it’s hard to find clothes my size at WalMart, as there’s plenty of stuff for people my waist size, but there must not be many out there that’s my height, which is weird ’cause you’d think it’d be the other way around.

For pretty much all of my life, my weight has been something I’ve had to deal with. All through high school, I was overweight. Not obese, but not fit. And when I graduated from S.P.C., I weighed around 220 at 6’1″.

But, after going off to WTAMU, I gained more weight, ultimately getting up to 280 lbs.

After rarely dating in the previous college years, I thought to myself that I would probably have better luck with finding companionship if I lost weight. And, so I did.

I started dieting, exercising, and taking Fen-Phen. That combo let me knock off 20 pounds in a month. Then came the news about Fen-Phen and peoples’ hearts not playing well together. But, even after I stopped the medicine, I continued dieting. And, lo and behold, I found companionship. But when that relationship had ended, I went into a depression. And I started dieting again.

With a vengeance.

I stopped eating hardly anything, and had started exercising amazingly unhealthy amounts. I would run 4-5 miles a day, seven days a week, and doing cardio (or what I thought was cardio) while subsisting on 1200-1400 calories a day.

I lost an additional 70 pounds in a little less than a year.

That’s right. At 6’1″, my nadir was around 138 or 139 lbs. I wore a size 28 jeans. The hair on my head and arms was getting crispy. My mood was horrible–I was cranky, ugly and bitter–and I drove away my close friends and my family. Ultimately, I had become downright skeletal.

In fact, a teacher friend of mine took me aside and expressed his concern for my well being. (Thanks Frank!)

(And, looking back, I know now that I was anorexic, and I also recognize the first big signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder.)

I started going to a dietician. And, as a result of the seriousness of my condition combined with a newly reintroduced stream of nutrition, I developed a heart problem, which I had to handle with, you guessed it, more exercise. (It probably didn’t help either that–at the time–I was a pack and a half a day Camels smoker)

At this point, I’d like to also tell you that my parents are some of the greatest people in the world. I don’t know how they put up with me at that time, but they were always on my side, always working with me to get me better.

And slowly–so, so slowly–I worked up to a good healthy weight and was there for 8 or 9 years. I even quit smoking. (I am, fortunately, still quit to this day.)

But, now my weight is back to where it was before.

Herein lies the quandary: I want to lose weight to be healthy and to be able to buy clothes at WalMart. But, I don’t want to go back to where I was before.

Here are the facts I am dealing with.

  1. I need to exercise more, but
  2. I hate exercising. (See why I was a bear? haha)
  3. I like eating food, but
  4. I need to eat better food and less.

So, I’m starting up…again. My current goal is 220. When I get there, I’ll reevaluate and set new plans.

Prayers are requested.

 

 

Advertisements

Guitars and Clay: a check-in.

It’s been a while. I know.

I was…busy.

So, the time might be right to get everyone up to date and then I’d like to talk about something new.

In the nine months leading up to the summer, I was both journalism and yearbook teacher, plus I was teaching adjunct English for South Plains College (SPC). I continued working on the first revision of the first draft of my novel, and I got a poem published.

Also, since my last post (which, by my reckoning, was–*ahem*–in April) my life has changed quite a bit: I got a new job!

I am now a full-time instructor on the English faculty at S.P.C. I’m way beyond psyched as this is something I’ve been wanting for a few years (I even have my own office, which I’ve already individualized–meaning I’ve put posters up.) I’ll be teaching Freshman Composition and Rhetoric and a section of pre-Freshmen English.

So, that’s what I’ve been doing, but I also wanted to also talk about something else, something not about me, at least not centrally.

See, since the beginning of the summer, I’ve taken both guitar and clay classes, and I’ve had the  opportunity to see two teaching experts in their fields both teach and display their art and craft. I’ve had to take a while to synthesize what I wanted to say about what I have and am taking from the lessons, but there are some things that I’ve noticed about creativity that I want to think about.

But, first, I would like to thank my teachers–Leo and Brent–for their letting me ask any question, however lame; you both answer any question seriously and with great patience, and I’ve gotten as much out of the classes that will inform my own teaching as I have with my actual art and performance. (By the way, this may sound like a good-bye letter, but it’s not, as I look forward to learning more with both of you.) All right…on with the list!

OBSERVATIONS

  1. Elegant simplicity is hard.
    Over the past month and a half, I watched both Brent and Leo create, Brent with jazz guitar performance and improvisations and Leo with clay and wheel. I watched both of them create elegant work. Work that was deceptively simple, but by no means simplistic.

    This simplicity is illusive. I always work towards it in my writing, but there it’s easier to pare away the superfluous stuff–maybe it’s because I’m more at home in that genre. With clay and guitar (especially clay), I always want to add more…what more can I do? And I find myself ultimately ruining the work because I messed around with it too much–the piece just implodes.

    So, I wonder–is rendering this “elegant simplicity” something that only comes with skill–not just technical skill, but the skill of discernment (the ability to not only create great complexity, but also knowing when not to), or is it something that tends to be innate in creative people?

  2. Awe is both exhilarating and slightly terrifying.
    Watch a creative in their element–one who really knows what they are doing. Do you feel that mixture of admiration, excitement, fear, and frustration?  That’s awe. I feel it at my lessons, or when I read a really excellent book, or when I walk through some amazing religious architecture.
  3. Mixed genre work is really interesting!
    The more I learn about these different forms, the more I want to intertwine them. So, I’m thinking more and more about the possibilities open to me. I want to get to a place where I can create something incorporating writing, music, and visual art. Or, alternatively, I want to be able to work on collaborations with other creatives at a level where I’m not wasting their time.
  4. Talking with other creatives is great!
    I leave these lessons rejuvenated. Not only have I learned, but I’ve also refined and/or restructured my own creative processes. I feel that I have participated in something special…meaningful. And, isn’t that what art is all about, the creation of meaning?
  5. Creativity proceeds from boredom.
    I’ve felt this for a while. Recently, I’ve found myself picking up the iPhone whenever I’ve felt the least bit unoccupied. But, with the tumult that is 2016 all over social media, it’s become easier to not be on the phone. And, you know what?  I actually begin to feel the need to create, and I feel at odds with myself if I don’t get to do that. So, I think the lesson is evident.

In semi-conclusion, my mind is still piecing together what I want to make of these observations, so I am going to make a second part to this entry later this week. I welcome all comments on this blog, or on my facebook page, or through Twitter (@stepsanders).

A STRANGE DISTANCING

Just a couple of days ago, I learned of the death of someone I had considered a friend. He was not a close friend, but someone whom I had known from my life in the church in which I had grown up. But, we had not spoken since I left (which is true for many of my friends in the church. I am partly to blame for this, I admit.)

Like I mentioned, we hadn’t spoken in many, many years, but I had learned of his illness–cancer– through Facebook. I kept up with how he was doing, though I had always figured that it would turn out all right for him– it looked like he was a man of great faith, and he had scores of righteous prayers spoken on his behalf.

I was wrong.

His death shocked and saddened me. Though, being as distanced as we were, I am not sure of the journeys of his life since the last we spoke, I do hope that his life was good through the years.

But, I do wonder how it all goes around. I’m finding more and more that I don’t really buy into the argument that there is direct divine intervention. It’s just really hard for me to believe.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not an atheist. I’ve gone down that road and back again. But, I’ve come to the conclusion that God just doesn’t do much in our lives. I believe that he is a just God. He loves us and wants us to be joyful. But, I just don’t think that His is an active hand–ever present in our lives.

I think we all know someone who has been sick, or sad, or had very hard times. They were prayed for and they recovered. Which is a great thing and I am very happy that events turned out the way they did.

But, we also know an equal amount of people who have been sick or sad who were also prayed for by the same people and who did not recover, their life  spiraling further down the maw.

Am I alone in thinking this is weird? I really would like to believe that God isn’t capricious, but for me not to believe that, I feel that I also have to reject the idea that God acts directly in the world.

I suppose it’s the old “why do the good suffer” question.

I have heard folks say “your prayers were answered, but just not in the way you wanted,”  “your prayers were answered. The answer was ‘no,’” or “there’s a greater purpose,” et cetera.

I’m sorry, but I don’t buy those responses either.

If any of those were true, especially when the life or well-being of a person hangs in the balance, then we are intended to be pawns on a chessboard, to be expended in order to get the win, regardless of the spiritual state of each pawn and the pawns around them.

A good, kind, Christian man I loved and respected had a hand grenade take half his face in WWII, he lost his wife (who earlier had lost her ability of speech after a botched operation), was taken advantage of and robbed by his care workers, and died a weak and sickened man.

He was prayed for throughout his life. These things happened.

And, the fact is that everyone has these things happen in their life. If God did make us for that, if he made us to be used for some “greater plan,” then he is capricious, or at the least, opportunistic. This idea is shattering.

I cannot believe that God made us for that.

I cannot believe that God made us to break us. Is that what love is?

Maybe I’m the one that’s a little weird, but I’m more comforted with the feeling that God does nothing in the world, that the world progresses as it does, that unfortunate events are truly random. God looks down on us and waits for each of us to return to him. 

At least that would give us some relief on the existential question: Why has God ignored me?

 

Who Cares if You Listen: The Lucas Edition

OK…It’s been a couple of weeks since I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens (T.F.A.)–twice. And, while I do admit to being a total fan since the age of four, I had that fandom pale when the new trilogy was released in the late 90’s/early 00’s (I found a successor: The Lord of the Rings.) I thought it too lengthy (there’s a difference between being epic and being drawn out), badly acted (save for Ewan McGregor and Ian McDiarmid), and lacking any authentic relatable emotion. So, I thought that was it and that I was through all of that Star Wars business. 

But, having now seen and totally enjoyed/geeked out on TFA twice, I would like to say that my joy has been restored, at least a little (there’s lots of Star Wars left with Disney to burn me again.) 

And, being a geek, after I saw the movie, I started to read as much information about the movie as I could. I found something both little disheartening and explanatory about the whole group of movies.

In short, I don’t think George Lucas cared (or cares)  if you like, or even watch, his movies.

I know it sounds bitter, but there is justification for this presumption.

First, a little background.

In 1958, a composer named Milton Babbitt wrote an article for High Fidelity called “Who Cares if You Listen.”  (click here to read the full text) In it, Babbitt discusses various properties of what was then considered to be “new music.” He talks about how music, in order to progress, to become truly “new,” often times must be considered complex, or difficult, by the average person. The article speaks about poorly attended concerts, because the “in” music in the classical sphere was atonal composition (music without a tonal center), or, more specifically, twelve tone composition, in which a chosen entire set of twelve tones (called a “row”) must be played before any of those tones can be played again, thus avoiding giving the music a home key. It’s chewy stuff to listen to, and I’m sure I’m leaving stuff out of the TL;DR explanation, but the big point of the article, which Babbitt had to defend and/or apologize for through his life, was that the composer (or artist, or reader, or…the director) shouldn’t care about what his audience likes or dislikes. That, in order to advance the art of whatever art is being created, the artist has to ignore his audience. He/she can’t care if you listen, and, by extension, can’t care if you like, enjoy, or even simply understand, what the artist is (trying?) to communicate. The larger audience is effectively left out of the equation, with the artist’s peers being the only ones who might be able to figure it all out. Composers stopped caring about the audience and the audience decided to stop caring about the music. Which is why classical music is a niche interest today (try a fun game: aside from movie composers, name three living classical composers).

Now, I would like you to look at these quotes from Variety:

“In an interview with Charlie Rose, George Lucas spoke about everything from his and Disney’s branching vision to the deal itself. Lucas, who has always been protective of his series and even refers to them as his “kids,” hasn’t been looking back well on the deal with Disney (via Collider).

‘I sold them to the white slavers that takes these things, and…,’ Lucas said before laughing and deciding it better not to finish…

The father of “Star Wars” also opened up about why he and Disney were split on their decisions for the franchise’s future.

“‘They looked at the stories, and they said, ‘We want to make something for the fans,’” Lucas said. “They decided they didn’t want to use those stories, they decided they were going to do their own thing. … They weren’t that keen to have me involved anyway — but if I get in there, I’m just going to cause trouble, because they’re not going to do what I want them to do. And I don’t have the control to do that anymore, and all I would do is muck everything up,” he said. “And so I said, ‘OK, I will go my way, and I’ll let them go their way.’” (Ed.- italics added)

The implication being that Lucas wanted to tell his stories his way–the fans be damned. (Of course, in order for your work to be successful in this manner, you’ve got to be truly extraordinary in your craft, either through talent or practice, but I wonder if Lucas’s later work is testament to a higher level of skill.)

Now, as a writer, I understand the need to be able to tell your own story. This is a prerequisite if you want to be honest in your creations. But, at a certain point, you risk creating a bubble for yourself, one in which you are unable, or unwilling, to evaluate the effectiveness of your work.

The reasons for this are manifold. Perhaps you are insecure about your work and thus don’t seek objective, honest critique.  Or, perhaps, you are too secure and think that only you can be the ultimate arbiter of quality. Or, and I think this might be closer to the truth in this situation, you become too powerful, and have surrounded yourself by those who are afraid to tell you what you need to hear, thus becoming sycophants, or, if they do tell you the grim truth, you adopt the dismissive mentality–“Thank you for your opinion, but scurry off now…I have a story to tell.” (Which, I have feeling is also what happened to The Hobbit trilogy of movies…but that’s another post).

What happens in that bubble is the skewing of reality. We see (please excuse the pun) the dark side of creative motivation. Where the artist might see necessary emotionalism, the audience sees sentimentality, or, worse yet, bathos. Where the artist believes that he has “the skills to pay the bills,” the audience sees only unrewarding hubris (which might be the result of having been away from the practice of one’s art for too long–sorry, George, just sayin’–another warning to artists who don’t continually work to refine their craft.)

These all should be warning signs to any artist:

Understand that you need to communicate your vision as you see fit, of course, but ignoring the other side, the audience, is folly–especially in the world of popular art forms. You need a first reader–someone who’s informed about the type of art AND who you respect and are willing to listen to AND who isn’t afraid to tell you something is dreck.

Somewhere in the past forty something-odd years, I think Lucas either forgot that, or forgot how to relate to his audience. Or forgot his first reader. Or stopped caring about it completely. I think, perhaps, that he believed that the audience was his audience and that they would follow him in his storytelling, no matter what quality that storytelling would finally end up having.  And, like it or not, The Phantom Menace is proof.

Others haven’t forgotten, though. I don’t know the politics or the mechanics that brought the latest installment to the theater in its present form, but I do know that they (be it J.J. Abrams or Lawrence Kasdan, or some Snoke behind the scenes) were able to communicate something about and through Star Wars that Lucas, with all his resources, wasn’t able, or willing, to do. (As an aside, I actually think that Abrams and Kasdan did Lucas a favor–whether Lucas wanted one or not–now fans will look back upon his original trilogy with joyful expectation rather than the sadness of “what might have been.”)
And, like it or not, The Force Awakens is proof.

…”Why?” I’ll Never Know.

So, I’ve ended my self-imposed semi-fast from social media. Actually, I ended it at the end of November, but I only really got back on in full just this past week. It’s peculiar…I really missed it the first few days, but it was only because I didn’t have something to do whenever I had a few spare moments (which, actually have become more and more sparse since I became journalism/yearbook sponsor at the high school and an adjunct instructor for South Plains College). I actually started finishing my novel for NaNoWriMo (until C. Diff. came back into my life, but that’s a whole ‘nother story, which I’m sure you don’t want to know…trust me, you really don’t.) But, for the most part, I was able to avoid social media. And, I’ll be honest, my life didn’t change drastically for the better–no Luddite epiphanies, here.

But, something happened tonight that hasn’t happened since before November–I got disgusted, angry, irritated, flabbergasted, and bewildered. Now, all of these emotions all at once aren’t supposed to be normal, much less regular, but before November, they happened quite often…more often than I’d like to admit. But, something happened tonight that spurred all these emotions. Something I was able to pinpoint:

I got onto Facebook and Twitter.

I consider myself a relatively intelligent person–someone who is able as a scholar to parse all the information available to me and make a rational, dispassionate decision about the world. But, it seems that all that just flies to dust whenever I get onto social media.

And I don’t know why.

And, it usually involves those two subjects: politics and religion.

In my day-to-day life, I can have balanced, nuanced conversations with other people concerning topics about which we disagree, but when I get on Facebook (and, to a lesser extent, Twitter), for some reason I forget all that “nuanced” business and start muttering to myself “What is WRONG with that guy? Are these people BLIND? What a hypocrite/idiot/moron!” Etc.

And these are ugly things. They are emotional, short-sighted. So, I wonder what it is about social media that encourages this type of response. And, I wonder if it is even worth it to continue being on there.

I don’t want to condemn Facebook and its ilk entire, though. As I am sometimes reminded,  good things happen because of their existence. People and issues are brought to our attention because they truly merit our attention. But, I believe that more and more the things that folks put on there tends more towards the divisive than the cohesive.

But, I don’t think that this is purposeful. I don’t believe that a person posts or shares something just so that others will NOT agree with him/her. In fact, I think it may be just the opposite.

I think that social media is our quickest, most untethered form of social contact. When we are online, we can vent without the consequences of most other types of communication (like “old school” face-to-face contact), while, at the same time, we hope for someone to read our posts, or read our shares, and agree with us (or, in world of Facebook, we want someone to “Like” us, or, even better, “Share” us and our ideas with others).

I think it is our reaching out to someone who has seen us at our most distilled, who has read the contents of our secret condensed heart, and who agrees with us.  Because who wouldn’t want to have a friend who’s seen our basest complaints, and loves us because we are base and because we do complain?

Or, is it because social media has become a megaphone for our “barbaric yawp?” No one listens to us when we are subtle, when we are calm, so we shout at the world with the hope of some response, any response.

Love me or curse me, just as long as you respond.

I don’t care what you think or say, just remind me that I exist.

October Flies!

It’s been a while since last I wrote. And, while it’s another new school year, quite a few things have changed.

You are looking at a newly busy dude. After a relatively uneventful summer (but a summer in which I built a kitchen table for my wife), the fall has brought me a ton of activity, which, in the blogging spirit, I’ve decided to compile into a list!

  1. My teaching load has almost entirely changed. I am now teaching junior-level English, Journalism, and Yearbook (none of which I taught last year). It’s taken me a while to get the hang of it all, but I’ve found that I really like Yearbook. It’s a lot of fun (and a lot of work), but I think I will reserve my final judgment until the end of the year when I can see the results of my students’ work.
  2. I’m teaching Freshman English as an adjunct (non-dual credit) instructor for South Plains College. It’s great to be able to flex my M.A. in English again!
  3. The High School Publications department is selling off its overstock of older yearbooks. So far (only one day in) it’s been more successful than I ever imagined.
  4. National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)will start on November 1, and I have fifteen participants already signed up and ready to write their 30,000 to 50,000 word opus! They’re a great group of kids and I think they’ll create something good.
  5. I’m going to participate in NaNoWriMo again, and I’ve started to think about how to end the novel that I began last year. I’ve 51,000-something-odd words and I think that I can finish it in another 50,000. But, I’m not a diagramming writer. I discover my novel as I write, so who knows where it’ll end. But, every day that we get closer to November I get more and more excited to get writing again. I just want to get the dadgumbed thing written so I can start editing it, having beta-readers take a look, and get it out there so it can be professionally rejected. 
  6. At church, I have become a mentor for Confirmation class. I’m ready to learn along with all the other mentors and mentees more about what it is to be a Christian and, more specifically, why the Lutheran church is Lutheran, in a manner of speaking. At any rate, I’m ready to learn.
  7. Lastly, I intend on building a D.I.Y. bookscanner for our publications department in order to digitize all our old school yearbooks, newspapers, et cetera. That will take a while, but I think it can be done on a minimal budget and hopefully help bring my department a little further into the 21st century.

At any rate, that’s where I stand right now. I intend to get a more purposeful blog post written for next week, but I figure y’all deserved an update and a reason why I’ve disrupted your regular evening routine.

If you’re returning to this blog after a long absence, thank you for staying with me and I hope you continue to stay.

If you are new to this blog, then I’m sorry…there will be more meaningful content arriving soon. Thanks for your patience!

CAR WAX AND CROCHET

Over the weekend, my family and I went to the Thunder on the Plains auto show here in Levelland. I love cars, and it’s a shame that I don’t know more about them.–something that I’m currently trying to change. Nevertheless, we saw a bunch of really cool classic cars, many of which I didn’t even know had existed.

Being at a car show, all the examples were in pristine condition (as far as I could tell). They all had sparkling paint jobs–paint so rich it looked wet on the metal. The engines seemed like they were straight out of the plant and their interiors emanated the smell of Armor-All or leather conditioner from their open windows in the August heat.

(For birthday gift ideas, there was a Chevrolet Apache that was absolutely gorgeous.)

Here in Levelland, Thunder on the Plains a sign that summer is closing down and school is arriving soon. Walking amidst the cars, I see my fellow teachers and future students, and we have a silent acknowledgement that the days of jeans and t-shirts are passing through the sieve.

But, it’s all right. I really don’t mind the thought.

I’m a creative writing teacher (please don’t hold this blog as an exemplar), and every fall I get a batch of students who either have been writing for the past few years, or who were placed into the class for lack of a suitable course for them at that time of the day. But, it seems that those two classifications tend to dissolve soon, and by the end of September, I see two new, different, groups take shape: those who care about perfecting their work, and those who care about finishing their work.

The first group works to make sure the poem (or short story, play, etc.) is the absolute best they can make it. They realize that creative work that stands the test of time also requires time–time spent creating, revising, re-reading, re-revising (ad nauseum), and then finally publishing.

The second group works to make sure the poem (or short story, play, etc.) is finished in the absolute fastest time possible. Revising is a sin, and RE-revising is travesty. To suggest that they rewrite is almost offensive. I would like to blame today’s instant gratification trend, but I also think that a lot of folks look at a “simple” poem and think to themselves, “There’s only 45 or 50 words there…how long could it take?” So, they sling one down onto paper and call it good. The problem with his approach is that the result is usually a fairly shallow, fairly thin work, something in which their lack of labor is obvious.

I think you can see which one I believe produces the better work. I consistently get better work from those people that are willing to refine the work–and refine themselves and their skills–in order to produce something that will hold up over the years.

It’s seeing those folks that makes teaching creative writing such fun.

At the auto show, I saw the fellow who owned the Chevy Apache. He was walking around the car, ever so lightly waving a long feather duster across the gleaming paint. It didn’t matter that–at least to my untrained eye–there was no dust to be seen on the pickup’s sheet metal. The owner knew of work that needed to be done. He cared for his work to be as flawless as possible.

Even if no one else knew about all the effort, he would know.

Now, I don’t claim to be as good a poet as this guy was an auto restorer, but I do know that my work is never finished, never good enough–and I have a whole notebook of failures that lurk, waiting to be perfected (or at least polished…well, maybe just made presentable.)  And, I don’t think I’ll ever develop the necessary grit (or resources) to restore a car, but I do know that watching someone down deep in the midst of refining their craft is fascinating.

I like to imagine listening to a couple of car restorers talking over a couple of coffees the benefit of one car polish over another, or a group of crocheters debating which type of stitch is better for an afghan blanket, or some painters discussing the merits of different style brush bristle materials. 

It’s the in-depth minutiae of a subject, the knowledge of the breadth and depth of the field that identifies the one who cares about the completed work as opposed to the one who merely completes.

It is the difference between the work that is forgotten and the one that your great- great- great- grandchildren read about in textbooks.

It is the difference between the good enough, and the just-plain-good.

I’m curious about your passions. If you have an interest, what are some of the details that one needs to know in order to perceive a work’s quality, or it’s test of time?

Let me know in the comments here or on Facebook.

QUIET PLACE

My family and I have been attending a Bible study/dinner/game night at my church. At the last meeting, the pastor, Amanda, introduced a scripture concerning the story of Elijah and how the Old Testament prophet was instructed by God to sleep, then to eat the food God provided, to refresh himself in order to keep travelling.

Amanda posed the following question to us: how do we refresh? What do we need to renew ourselves, to calm ourselves?

Some in our group mentioned that sleep is a big deal–that no matter what is stressing us, sleep tends to moderate them, to renew them in order to deal with the stressor. Others said that exercise does the same thing.

My renewal, though, comes through being creative—to come up with an idea and then be totally lost in the fulfillment of its existence, then to stand back and look upon it, to understand that “I just did that.” It’s a glorious experience.

The clock quietens down, and after minutes of work, I realize that hours have passed. 

I built a dinner table for my wife this summer. I’m so happy I did. I loved every aspect of it, even the repetitive parts of it. I loved the designing, the buying, the problem-solving, the artistic decision-making. I loved the moment we actually got the finished table to the house.

I’ve often thought about being able to do this for a living—just to be inventive and being allowed the time and space to create. (This is the reason a small-run printing press/bookshop is my current post-retirement plan).

This is why I’m looking forward to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this November. It’s a nation-wide initiative to encourage potential writers to completely write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. I’m the sponsor of the NaNoWriMo chapter at the school where I teach, so I participate in the program along with the students. 

It’s an opportunity to combine the creativity that helps me so much with a job that encourages others to be creative (and, coincidentally, helps keep a roof over my family’s head).

So, that’s November; I need to start planning for the other 335 days.Table

READING CARNEGIE

You know, for an English teacher, I don’t read very much on my own. The usual extent of my reading is the rereading of every novel, short story, play, and poem that I intend to teach that year. (Yes, I actually do reread the every work. The whole work. Yes, I know A Canticle for Leibowitz very, very well. Yes, I know, I am a nerd.)

This summer, though, I decided to actually getting back into reading for myself. And, it’s been great! First, after hearing a recommendation (from Jimmy Fallon, of all people), I read Viktor E. Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning, written after the psychologist survived the German concentration camps in World War II. It’s an amazing observation and commentary upon why some people were able to survive the camps and why some gave up. I recommend this book, though the second half of the book explaining his theory of “logotherapy” may appeal more to readers interested in psychology.

The next book I read was, I think, what everybody else read: Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. Now, I think I’ve got this right…this is what Lee wrote first, but a suggestion by her editor convinced her to write the narrative that is now called To Kill a Mockingbird (Watchman is set years after Mockingbird, though.)

It is a really excellent book. There’s lots of hoopla about whether or not Lee wanted it published. I really hope she did, since I found the book riveting. I read the whole thing in one day — which really isn’t a big deal, since it really isn’t a big book.

I loved finding out what happened to all the characters, and it made me rethink my previous readings of Mockingbird; what amazed me more, though, is that it actually made me care enough to rethink. I actually had to spend intellectual capital, which is precious to me (scarce thing that it is.)

The next book is one that I’m currently reading: How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie. You’ve probably heard of it. The title itself is used so often that it’s on the verge of becoming cliche. This is probably because it’s sold a gazillion copies since its initial publication in 1937. And, there’s a reason why.

It’s a very good book.

And, reading through it, I can remember examples of people in my life who lived by his suggestions (consciously or not) and were very successful in getting along with other folks. And, I’ve seen that when I’ve done the things Carnegie mentions, I’ve actually gotten along better, and my interactions with other people are way more successful. And, of all the instructions and ideas Carnegie puts forth, they can all be boiled down into one statement:

Put other people first.

It’s amazing how much that accomplishes. And, it’s also amazing how many people don’t do that. I used to be more outward thinking, more willing to think of how other people felt, what they were going through, but it seems that more and more recently, I’ve become more selfish, or at least I’ve been “lookin’ out for me” more. And, you know what that’s gotten me?

Nothing but tears.

I’ve actually looked at the interactions I’ve had at work and at home. And if they ended unsuccessfully, either with stress or bad feelings (on anyone’s part), it was because I had been looking out for me, trying to make sure I got a fair deal.

But, when I (consciously or unconsciously, again) tried to put the other person first, either through trying to empathize with them, or acknowledging their inherent importance, or even just truly listening to them, I found that each and every one of those interactions were positive. They felt better. I felt better. Stress levels decreased. Happiness levels increased. And, I actually benefitted in one way or another. Maybe not in material means, but perhaps emotionally — which is just as good.

I haven’t gotten through the entire book yet, but already I think I can recommend this book for everyone: teachers, preachers, parents, gardeners, astronauts — everyone.

Take a look at a copy.

You won’t be disappointed.

FACEBOOK MAAAAADNESS!!!!

Two years I’ve been writing this blog. This is not a long time, and when I started it, I was writing an entry every week (until I started to run out of ideas every week.) Now, I’m averaging one or two posts a month.

And, it’s been pretty fun!

I haven’t had any of the rougher experiences I’ve heard of, “trolling“ and the like. But, on the other hand, I don’t think I get a lot of readers, either. That’s ok. The readers I do have respond to what I write and I really, really appreciate it.

It lets me know that I’m not just writing a journal, not just making myself feel like something I’m not.

And, for that, I thank you readers. (You know who you are.)

Recently, though, I saw something that made me think about what I do here, my reasons for writing a blog, and why and how people interact online, and more specifically, how they interact on social media. I started to ask some questions about the nature of an online audience.

Let me start off with a disclaimer: I’m a Democrat, and not just a Democrat, but a bleeding-heart, tree-hugging, gun-controlling, Bernie Sanders-supporting Democrat. About the only thing I disagree with Democrat platform on is that I’m not pro-choice, and this has been addressed (in a fashion) in an earlier post on my blog. So, when I see a Bernie Sanders quote or official meme that I agree with on Facebook (FB), I share it with my “FB” Friends. Usually, it’s about the economy, or health care. And I usually get one comment or no comments at all.

This is not unexpected. I recognize that I live in one of the most conservative–most staunchly Republican–areas of the United States. And I know that most of my FB friends will just ignore those posts, or, at most, they will reply to these shared posts with three or four lines of rebuttal.

And, I’m fine with that; if I don’t want comments, then I shouldn’t share anything on any social media. And, I’m tough-skinned enough to understand that whatever they have to say is their opinion and I don’t let it bother me. (A character trait that being a nerd–and a public school teacher–have given me.)

Today, though, my FB share ended up a little bit more lively. I shared a quote from Sanders that said, in effect, that all firearms that are created exclusively for the harming of other humans should be banned. One of my good, “in-reality,” friends on FB posted a meme that allowed for civil discussion on the issue. I, for once, replied with my view on the quote. The exchange was civil, in fact.

And the slew of comments (“slew” meaning more than five) on that share and discussion was, for the most part, very civil. And that, I think, was very cool.

What I didn’t expect was the sheer interest generated by all that.

Now, being that most of my FB friends are from around here, I knew that most of them wouldn’t agree with a pro-gun control stance, and I’ve posted things like that before with hardly any response. So, I’m wondering why a bunch of people all of a sudden decided to respond.

Why all the hoopla, so to speak?

Of all the things that I figure weren’t due to chance (like timing, the quality of FB newsfeed at that time, etc.), the only thing that I can figure is that either there was 1) a actual civil give and take between two folks, or 2) that I myself decided to take a stand on the issue—in my own words.

The fact is I don’t know. I can’t decide. I don’t even know whether or not either of those reasons are valid.

It’s something that I’m going to have to think about further.

But, whilst I’m still thinking, I have another question:

Why, in the heck, can’t I get the same interaction on my blog?

Is it because it’s not a blog about other people (it’s a well-known fact that people like to talk about, and read about, themselves—ergo, this blog)?

Is it because it’s not about controversial topics (most of the time)?

Or is it–excuse the teacher snobbery–is that it takes more than two clicks away from FB and Twitter, and that it takes more than thirty seconds to read and respond?

Again, I don’t know. But, having seen the response, I understand why CNN/FoxNews/MSNBC/etc. have so many enthusiastic followers. They talk about–and court–high-pressure news and rhetoric.

And, lots of people are diggin’ it.

So, should I change the format of the blog? How about the topics of the blog? Should I make it into a 100% news commentary?

Maybe I should just have a blog that are three sentences or less and that spout political radicalisms.

If that sounds a little bitter, I’m actually not.

It all just took me by surprise.