Summertime….when the living is……well, …….

When I was little, I wore shorts and sleeveless tops and played outside a good share of the day, screen door slamming behind me as I hustled out the back door. No worry about sunscreen, no discussion about how hot and sweaty I might get–it’s summer. If I got hot, it was expected–it was summer, after all. And I could always get a glass of ice water and sit in front of a fan if I wanted a break from playing–or, at times, sitting outside reading. Surprised? Not if you know me.

Now, I’m sitting here debating whether to turn on the air conditioning. It’s a bit over 80 degrees in the apartment, but I have windows open and a fan going. In fact, I spent part of the afternoon putting the screens in the doors and rearranging the minuscule living room so that I would have a better cross breeze. I like fresh air and all that.

But…my hair is hot. Sweat is trailing down the back of my head, dripping onto my t-shirt collar. My feet are hot, too. My socks are a bit damp, and my ankles itch. Maybe I should take a shower. Maybe I should buy a pair of shorts. Or…I could turn on the AC and be comfy cool, thumbing my nose at Mother Nature’s hot flash. Summer–ha. No reason for us to be anything but cool as Kerouac.

Being me, this isn’t a question of personal comfort (or Beth’s comfort, either; she can deal). If I turn on the AC, am I perpetrating a system that creates soft, weak people, people who are disconnected from nature and the natural rhythms that our foremothers honored? My Cherokee and Iroquois ancestors survived in less hospitable surroundings than I’ve ever encountered (well, except for my junior prom. No native ever braved that–but I have faith they could have). Am I buying into a consumer mindset that is creating unsustainable expectations about the pampered quality of life I should have?

The personal is the political. Think globally, act locally. Both true. Both cliches I believe. This is a moment that tries men’s souls, the summer patriot, etc (Yea, Tom Paine is sticking out his zombie-tongue at me). I do believe that I should not turn on the AC, that a good person–one concerned about the environment, one interested in connecting with nature–wouldn’t mind the rivulet of sweat trailing from her ear down her bra…but right now,….well…I’m going to go sit in the Lotus position under my maple tree, decide what Thoreau would do.

Playing Poker in Lima

First: I am going to NOT write about school this summer….as much as possible. Although this is based on Lima student mentality, I’m even limiting how often I blog about that. I’m tired of school, of teaching, of education sucking my soul and asking that I tithe my creativity and intellect at a proportion not commiserate with my job description.

HOWEVER,….gotta write this one. The elephant in our school is the Lima Mentality, a special blend of learned helplessness, entitlement, resignation, and eensy-teensy locus of control. It’s not just the kids–it permeates the city. We’re limited by “our population” and “our situation;” we don’t name the elephant, of course–confronting the issues of underclass, acceptable loss, and racism head on. We’re in an elegant do-si-do of enabling and whining, with a soupcon of schadenfreude thrown in for the barely middle class among us.

I’ve been in multiple conversations over the last few months about this problem, with a variety of people who all deal with it (and fall victim to it) in various contexts. I could analyze and sympathize and sermonize, but I am beginning to belief that my generally warm fuzzy, empathetic encouragement is not the best way to deal with the Lima Beast, even when it shows up in myself (which I will cop to…reluctantly).

Instead of helping with problem-solving, encouraging baby-steps, holding their hands through trials and risk-taking (and some of those “risks” are amazingly small and normal, by middle-class standards), here’s what I think I’m going to adopt as my new attitude:

“Yes, you didn’t get dealt a fair hand in life. If you’re going to whine, make excuses, and be a victim, leave the table. Otherwise, play your cards as smart as you can, work harder than everyone else at the table to learn the game–and maybe the next round you won’t lose your stake. If you’re not willing to play harder and smarter than the people who were born with aces up their sleeve, don’t pretend you’re playing the game.”

There are valid reasons and situations that add a great deal of strife and complication to my students’ lives. No argument. But reasons for failure shouldn’t be excuses, they should be incentives for success. And it bugs me more than I can express that I can see that phrase on a t-shirt, turned into a damn motto for happy people to chant as the cycle of enabling and failing continues.