Lasts, Endings, and Beginning Again

Right now, I should be entering grades, writing (very late) lesson plans, and designing the final exams that I will be giving the week after next–in order to put together study guides, I need to know what’s on the exam, and with graduation next weekend, I’m not going to even attempt to tell myself that I’ll put together the tests next weekend. I know better.

This coming week is graduation prep for Beth and winding up the year for me. My to-do list is somewhat long, but I’m not feeling pressured; it’ll all get done, even with me taking a moment to write. I want to reflect on all the ending, all the changes–but at this point, the combo of things that need done and emotional….fatigue?….blunt my reactions. I want out of the classroom, and I don’t believe that I’ve been good in it for two years. I can’t point with pride to much I’ve done in the classroom–academically or as it relates to specific kids since MI ended. Parts of this year have been as dead and anxious for me as the worst of the old school years. Would it have been different if I had known I wouldn’t be replaced until next year? I don’t know. My attitude about that could certainly have colored the year. But it’s not that much different than last year, and I can’t name any teacher I’ve talked with that would even call the year mediocre. I have to remind myself that I had good years–excellent years–and try to hold to them as my memories of teaching.

And Beth is graduating. For 18 years, my mornings have included her getting in the car with me to go whereever she had to be before my day started. Her first day of kindergarten is still so heart-stopping clear to me. We got in the car, her with her backpack and smile–a bit scared, but she’d met her teacher before and been in the school for speech therapy many times. I took her to First Baptist, where she’d get breakfast and walk over to school with her daycare teacher and a few other latchkey kids. She went in with no issues, hugged me and we talked a bit, then I left. When I got to the car, I cried. Sobbed. While watching my watch, because I had exactly 3 minutes that I could fall apart, then I had to swing past the house to get Megan (first year of high school) and Chris, who was starting his senior year. 3 minutes to cry. There’s a poem in there somewhere. By the time I’d traveled the few blocks to get them, my eyes were clear and if they could tell I’d been crying, they didn’t mention it.

And now, I’m at another major juncture, and I don’t seem to have any tears. Very little joy, either. Just another to do list, just another time when I know I’ve fallen short, but have to cross my fingers, light some candles, and have faith that it’s all going to work.


Enough #1

I’ve been thinking about this for a few weeks, but whenever I considered concrete action…well…this is my first move towards action. As I considered my eating habits, and my exercise (non)habit, and all the issues swirling around the general area of my life involving self-discipline and making good choices (money and time are connected here, too), I hit on two words that I want to explore: enough and delight. I’m not putting them together in a phrase–they’re separate. That’s important.

Tonight, I’m starting to think about Enough.  Here are some contexts I think of related to enough:

  • Parents/adults telling me that I’ve had or done enough–it’s time to stop, possibly with an undertone of “you’ve had/done too much,” judgmental—and my internal voice is worse about summoning that judgement than any external force has ever been.
  • The corollary: me telling my kids they’ve had enough–enough treat, enough time to play at the park, enough mess or noise. Again, it was a judgement or a stopping of something that was (probably) fun or enjoyable, and probably said sharply.
  • People, including me, at the table at the end of a meal after having overindulged, saying that we didn’t want more, we’d had enough, really meaning we’d had too much, maybe way too much.
  • Contexts where I felt as if I didn’t have enough–money, time, attention, affection, space (money is the big one–and there have been times, not recently, where I truly didn’t have enough. I know the difference, which doesn’t stop the mental clenching when I feel that way).
  • The way I feel when I stop at enough, before I hit more than enough, especially with food. This is the first positive connotation I’ve listed of the word.
  • Knowing that even though my kids didn’t have some “regular” things that others had growing up, they had enough–they always had clothes, food, transportation, and–I hope they feel this way–love and attention.
  • Loving playing music and participating in music, but being told (and knowing by comparison) that I wasn’t good enough.
  • Since I starting drinking occasionally, learning the difference between “enough,” “not enough,” and “too much. Coming from a teetotaling tradition, that’s an interesting lesson.
  • Truth: I almost never feel as if I’ve had enough pepsi. It’s a rare day when I couldn’t have a bit more
  • Frustration with behavior and finally getting to the point where I draw a line and say “that’s enough”–when in reality, I should have drawn the line much, much sooner. And that’s true in multiple contexts, including but not limited to my classroom. I’m not sure that this is a positive one, either–for me to get to that point, I feel ineffectual and helpless, and saying that doesn’t usually change the behavior or situation; it simply means I’m washing my hands of dealing with it.  It’s not drawing a line out of strength.

Based on all these, with only a few that have positive undertones, this is not a word that makes me smile. It’s not a warn fuzzy word, although it can be a polite one (“No, thanks–really. I’ve had enough.”) But there are two stories about it that make me believe I need to embrace “Enough” . One is an internet parable about an elderly person at an airport, hugging her daughter good bye, saying “May you have enough.” It’s sappy and emotionally manipulative–not my type of story, And it hit me. That’s what got me thinking about the word Enough.

And in my Quaker readings and some of the Green Party lit, the continued emphasis that there is plenty for everyone if people choose to simply have enough, not hoarding or greedy. This frames “enough” as a good goal, a fine thing. Stop before getting to the “enough” of Thanksgiving, with unbuttoned jeans and bloated insides.

So I’ve written enough for tonight. There’s more to say, more to think about, but this is a good stopping place. Enough, with a side of peace…and yawns.

My Entry Into The Great American Think Off: Does Technology Trap Us or Free Us?

A few years ago, a student at my school was the victim of a devastating house fire. Upon learning that the student, an avid reader, lost her bookshelf of favorite titles, teachers combed their personal libraries and local bookstores in hopes of surprising the teen with a replenished bookshelf. The cause of the fire was old, faulty wiring—the only blame to be laid was at the foot of the landlord. As terrible as the fire was, the fire did not knowingly choose to devastate the family’s home. It was a tool of civilization that slipped its harness. In the proper times, when used judiciously, fire is the tool of civilized people.

The same can be said of technology. Does technology trap us or free us? That question presumes that technology is able to independently initiate action, knowingly determine how, when and why people will use it. Despite gains in cognitive robotics and the growing ability of our “smart” devices to anticipate our needs and wants, at this point, people are still the sentient force guiding the creation and evolution of the array of technologies we have surrounding us on a daily basis. Technology doesn’t either trap us or free us; human wisdom is the operating system determining when we are chained and when we soar. The shortage of wisdom to guide our use of technology is the heart of the issue.

Evidence abounds that we use technology in ways that hurts us on a societal level and on a personal level. Technology has changed the realities of childhood, for instance, in ways that my parents’ generation would never have tolerated when they were raising my generation. The idea that children would be “safer” in the house with electronic “games” than playing freeze tag until twilight throughout the neighborhood? Preposterous. Children as young as kindergarten spending multiple days taking computer-administered tests to assess their “progress?” The PTA would have been in an uproar. The incessant screen time that my children and students view as normal averts their major bugaboo, boredom, and leaves them in a consuming haze—the limits to watching that were common in my childhood are nearly unenforceable and unimaginable now. Even the idea that teens and preteens “need” a phone in case of emergency—were there emergencies that previous generations never learned about because the ubiquitous cell phone hadn’t been invented? People—parents and children, friends and lovers—expect constant, instant communication because the tool for it exists, not because the bulk of us face daily crises.

The degree of intrusion and surveillance that we accept knowingly is staggering, and the fact that we not only accept most of it unquestioningly, but we feel reassured that we are “safer” because “they” can watch. In return for the promise—or illusion—of security, we sacrifice privacy and autonomy. As parents allow corporations to follow their children’s browsing, watching and traveling to create more targeted advertising, we all agree that it’s basically harmless, and..’s not as if we could stop it anyway at this point. It’s easy to shrug, then immerse ourselves in Netflix or YouTube to see the latest viral video.

But technology is a tool, and there are innumerable benefits and advances that are possible because of our ability to design better technologies. Medical “miracles” happen because technology works. My friend has a grandson with SMA, Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and technology gives that baby both a higher quality of life and reason to hope that progress towards a cure is coming. Because of technology, also, information and support is only a mouse click away. For every scary story of sexual predators or bullying teens, there’s a counter story of lives changed for the better because of the wonder of instant, credible information and support that is available because of technology. And, as last fall’s Ice Bucket Challenge proved, the internet can be used to raise awareness and funds that last long past the fad.

When the first cavewoman got the great idea to harness fire for cooking as she was trying to decide what to do with a dead Mammoth, it was progress. There were probably cavemen screeching warnings about the danger then, too. But wisdom and knowledge won out, and generally, we appreciate fire as an indispensable tool. Unless we develop wisdom soon, we will allow technology to trap us—but let’s focus the blame where it belongs. Technology is a tool, and if it becomes our jailer, it’s because we let it.

When I Was More Innocent: Reflections on People with Differing Viewpoints, 2014 edition

It is just that we should be grateful, not only to those with whose views we may agree, but also to those who have expressed more superficial views; for these also contributed something, by developing before us the powers of thought. ~Aristotle
Another election season has ended. I’m not especially thankful it ended, in large part because the business of campaigning in America never ends–it merely enters another cycle. The part of the election process which I am thankful for is this: people from various viewpoints who engage in questioning, discussing, and defending their views. It’s through those discussions that I have the opportunity to hone my ideas further–or, when I find my ideas to be flawed, begin the process of thinking through the core beliefs/problem/solution matrix that filters my attitudes.
Aristotle suggests that I should be grateful to those who expressed superficial views. He said that before 24 hour news cycles and Facebook memes were invented; if he were writing today, perhaps he would draw a line between the superficial ideas worthy of delving into, whether to repudiate or support, and those that should be ignored (…and blocked. The ability to block posts and people on Facebook is something I’m extremely grateful for!). Now society faces such an overwhelming influx of information that we too often wear blinders, fending off the overwhelming stream of facts, ideas, and appeals by only looking through our narrow lens. I’m guilty of it too–it’s a crucial coping mechanism for dealing with the onslaught of words and images we daily encounter.
But I embrace Aristotle’s concept. Considering views that differ from mine, or sometimes even superficially expressed views that I endorse, challenges me to work harder to explain–even to myself–why I hold the beliefs I do. I am pushed to examine the underlying assumptions I hold about the nature of the issue and my priorities as I answer, and I have to re-validate the data and facts that I’m using as evidence. People who disagree with me cause me to be a better critical thinker and more definite in my ideas–as long as I’m gaining that confidence based on thoughtful examination and not merely stubbornness, something I admit to at times.
I’ve framed this as a political injunction, but it extends through any ideas, opinions or creeds I hold. When I teach Sunday School (for adults–no one in their right mind wants me near children in Sunday School!), I’ve had fascinating conversations with classmates who hold opinions that baffle me.Those discussions, just like discussions I have about diet, health, education, relationships, nature, child-rearing–all thoughtful discussions–lead me to build a stronger understanding of the world and my place in it. I’m grateful for my opponents from the other side of the aisle, because they help me understand why I’m where I am and whether that’s where I should stay.

Not For Veteran’s Day

Note: I wrote this in 2012; I’m surprised by how much of it I still agree with. 

Two days ago was Veteran’s Day. Yesterday Billy Owens’ birthday. In my mind, those are connected.

Billy was a student in my epic AP class close to a decade ago. He wasn’t the usual AP student, but he wanted a shot and worked hard to earn his place. After graduation, he went into the military, and he was proud of the time he served. I talked to him intermittently both while he was serving and afterwards, while he was a veteran heading to college. The story ends too soon, with Billy committing suicide a while back. I’ve lost track of time, but I know that summer I had two former students do that; this is a rough era for young people, and suicide stats are one of the starkest proofs of it.

That isn’t what I intended to focus on, though. The intersection of Veteran’s Day and Billy’s birthday have me thinking. As a quasi-pacifist, I can’t wave a flag and yell “hip hip hooray for Veterans” if there’s any chance that I’m also glorifying war (Yes, I know that as a member of Daughters of the American Revolution, I’m on a slippery slope  using that criteria. Talk to my dad about it). One of the reasons I want to turn Quaker is because of their “Peace Testimony,” and as I’m writing this, I’m keeping their stances in mind.

When I started teaching, I was appalled that several special ed teachers used the ASVAB test, which qualifies a person for military service, as the major text in their room. They were prepping their students to be gun fodder–that’s the way I saw it then. I was pretty self-righteous about it, but at least I didn’t take to a bully pulpit. Usually.

In contrast, when one of my favorite students from the last couple years came into my classroom last month and told me he’s going in the Navy after Christmas, I nodded and told him that was probably an excellent decision. He’s a very smart kid, very personable–and for a lot of reasons, needs some direction and self-discipline– and he needs out of Lima. Many of my students are like that, needing some time to mature and learn skills, to figure out who they are while earning money and having a roof over their heads and a reason to get out of bed. College does that for some–but not all. The military is often the only other option, particularly in this job market. I hate the fact that there’s a decent chance he’ll be deployed in a war zone, but he knows the price he’s potentially paying for the shot at gaining maturity, experience, and a clue what to do with his life.

The change in my attitude reflects a greater awareness of the world and years of observing people. When I was a total pacifist, back when I honestly believed that with reason, love, and the right incentives conflict could be handled without resorting to throwing plates, fists, or bombs, my experience in the world was limited to people who had roughly the same assumptions about life and ethical constructs that I did. Debates about whether the car radio should play John Denver or the Partridge Family didn’t devolve to fisticuffs, and arguments about who should clean the bathroom at my college apartments may have involved snarky comments and pointed product placement (a can of Comet on the kitchen table eventually gets noticed), but again–no stitches or police were required.

And…as always…I’m a product of my age. It’s easy to say “War is wrong” when the only war you’ve experienced is Vietnam. I remember the  older kids worrying about getting a draft notice, or trying to choose the best way to be 4F. I remember asking why we were fighting there, and the confusing answers I got–perhaps that was an early sign that I ask too many questions, but people tried to answer, each explanation tangling with another, slightly different one, to create a sticky web that lead out one way: War is wrong.

But that was a long time ago, and I suspect that if I go to a zoo, I’ll even see the zebra in shades of grey. The stark right/wrong viewpoint that worked even through much of my 20s and 30s is much muddier now.

At this point, I define myself as a quasi-pacifist. In no particular order, that means I believe this:

  • Choosing to not fight can be powerful. Gandhi and the Civil Rights movement proved that.
  • People have the right to chose to not fight, but they need to be able to do it from a position of strength; pacifism cannot stem from weakness or fear and be effective.
  • People need to know how to deal with school yard bullies, both as children and adults. Weak people are targets, but that doesn’t mean that the best (or only) answers involve brute force.
  • Physical Force or the threat of it is overused in daily life and in the political arena. Almost always, reason, negotiation, and proper understanding of core values will improve a situation.
  • However, evil and myopically-self-involved people (and groups of people) exist in the world. They cannot be allowed to hurt others–but derailing those people must impact the least other people possible, and all possible non-violent means must be used first. “Preventative war” is an unethical concept, and “Collateral damage” is a fancy way of saying “innocent victims.”
  • Emotional rhetoric on from any party in the situation does not mean violence is inevitable or will help. It’s a sign everyone needs time–like a week–in the time-out chair to think about what they’re doing. (My school and the UN both need time out chairs!)
  • The only use of force that I can embrace is to protect those who cannot (not will not) protect themselves. And again, non-violent means of to achieve that goal must be tried first.
  • The fights between people, like between students in my school, should not occur. We should be doing more to create non-violent  interpersonal relationships.
  • The fact that the US military budget equals the next 15 countries’ military budgets combined is unreasonable and immoral.
  • People who choose to serve deserve all the honor and support our country can give them–and I don’t see our national policies doing that now.
  • The best way to honor and support our people in the military is to ensure they don’t have to go into battle, and when it’s unavoidable, give them materials and support, and get them out of it as soon as possible. Or sooner.
  • The high number of military and veteran suicides and PTSD means something is seriously wrong in the system, and we should be figuring out what now. Top priority.
  • There are many benefits to serving in the military, and I’ve seen many students gain confidence and become adults due to serving. Designing a National Service option/requirement should be investigated.

I started this by thinking about Veterans’ Day and Billy, and as a semi-literate somewhat- writer, I know that my conclusion should wrap up by tying all this back to Billy and Veterans’ Day. That neat ending eludes me–possibly because Billy chose an ending that doesn’t fit into a tidy, light paragraph. Billy and I discussed in detail why he went into the military, and he had many good reasons, reasons that my student last month echoed. All I can do is light a candle that the story ends up differently this time…for all the people serving.

54 Thoughts

  1. If you don’t dust, it will be waiting for you later.
  2. You’re not listening if you’re mentally disagreeing while the other person talks.
  3. Sitting under a tree looking at a body of water is better for your soul than a sermon.
  4. Washing dark clothes with whites does not cause the apocalypse.
  5. As the members of each generation die, the next generation comes closer to the finish line. And so on.
  6. The slam of a wooden screen door as you run into the back yard on a summer morning doesn’t sound the same after you grow up.
  7. Don’t tell me about your god; tell me how you treated your family and friends last week.
  8. Throwing snow on an overheated car radiator is not as good an idea as it sounds like it would be.
  9. I’ve reached the point where I look at pictures from my teens and wish I had realized how attractive I would have been if I’d believed in myself.
  10. People who insist rap isn’t music annoy me even though I don’t like rap.
  11. I believe in elves, fairies, and Bigfoot.
  12. The tarot card I am the most wary of is “Justice;”  I want Mercy, not justice–but that’s not a tarot card.
  13. Naming your strengths and talents isn’t bragging.
  14. I may be too late in learning that the mental, the intellectual and the physical parts of a person are intimately intertwined.
  15. Very few chores are more important than spending time with family or friends.
  16. Occam’s Razor. Use it frequently.
  17. I spent years practicing to sit on Johnny Carson’s couch, next to Ed. Now I want to know if I could make Colbert truly laugh.
  18. Many women spend years balancing between being Scarlett and Melanie. The women to avoid are the ones who tip the scales in either direction.
  19. Don’t believe someone who says they like every kind of music or every type of books or movies; either their experience or taste is so limited that they don’t see the world outside of it.
  20. Gas pumps should not play music, regardless whether I like the tune.
  21. The advice from the movie Risky Business is wisdom worthy of Yoda, Buddha, and Jesus.
  22. Personality traits are not gender-specific. The terminology we use to describe those traits, however, often differs by gender.
  23. The Beatles were wrong. You need more than love.
  24. When it’s 3 am, the clock is ticking and you can’t sleep, the mythologies you believe are more important than the truths you know.
  25. The cat is both alive and dead. Accept it.
  26. Self-esteem that is based on overcoming failure is far better than the tissue paper self-esteem fostered by happy face stickers and inflated grades.
  27. We need people who are passionate about one or two things, no matter how arcane or off the beaten path the topic may be.
  28. I require a trickster god.
  29. Roseanne didn’t jump the shark; it was post-modernist in a medium that abhors experimentation.
  30. Our society needs rituals to officially recognize change-of-life transitions such as moving out from your parents’ house, getting divorced, kids leaving–or returning–home.
  31. More cowbell is always needed!
  32. The Bible should contain writing by C.S.Lewis, Madeline L’Engle, Henry Rollins, Bruce Springsteen, and Thoreau.
  33. Don’t trust anyone who claims to not have secrets; they lie.
  34. Everyone should look in the Mirror of Erised once.
  35. Telling someone “go to hell” is sometimes appropriate.
  36. When this year’s students graduate, everyone who had Drew Chiles as a teacher will be gone from my school. Within that fact is a poem about how fleeting a teacher’s tenure is.
  37. We need more dancing and less talking.
  38. Christmas trees should have both twinkling and non-twinkling multi-color lights. And lots of them.
  39. One of my first memories is JFK’s death; then MLK’s and Bobby’s, Vietnam protests, Kent State, and Watergate. I started with the loss of innocence; my cynicism is inevitable.
  40. Everyone has a true age, the point where they are most themselves. That’s the age of their soul.
  41. If I had three wishes, one would possibly involve a Yellow Submarine.
  42. Children shouldn’t be discouraged from using the word “no.” It’s a word many adults do not use often enough.
  43. Most people’s dreams are wishes, not action plans.
  44. Parents and children would both be better off if parents understood that their goal is to be on the sidelines watching their kids walk the path, not using a machete to clear the way.
  45. If you don’t know whether you’re Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Lion, or the Scarecrow, there’s a good chance you’re the Wicked Witch.
  46. Doing yoga in the grass, under the trees on a warm summer day is better communion than grape juice and bread.
  47. Not emoting all over the place is not the same as not having deep feelings.
  48. People reveal more than they realize in simple conversations. Saying “I think I am a good student” is different than “I feel I am a good student,” for example.
  49. Joss Whedon, Aaron Sorkin, Jon Stewart, and Michael Moore–this is the list of people I would like to work for.
  50. Yes, I’m bothered that I didn’t list any women. If Ellen Goodman or Molly Ivins were still writing, they would be on the list.
  51. Molly Weasley’s battle with Bellatrix was the best moment in the last Harry Potter movie.
  52. The rubric I use as I unconsciously assess men may include columns marked Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Capt. Kirk, The Doctor, Hawkeye Pierce, Jax Teller, and Phil Donahue. Anyone who doesn’t fit somewhere on there probably isn’t someone I can have an interesting conversation with.
  53. Elderly people who live active, independent lives seem to have had a long-term commitment to physical fitness. That observation should lead to action.
  54. Ultimately, Love wins.

Note: I wrote this on my May 7, 2013, my birthday. Fifty-four sounds so young now…and I stand by almost all of these thoughts as valid and true.

The Church of Jodi Picoult

The longest hours of my life were the couple times I went to prayer meeting with Grandma. I was young, not more than eight or nine, and I have gauzy memories of sitting quietly in a small-town living room littered with lace doilies, surrounded by serious women wearing hats, dresses and semi-sensible shoes.

Not their fancy Sunday hats, of course–this was an every day sort of dress up occasion. God frowned if women were too dressy during the week–and if women weren’t dressy enough on Sunday. I learned that in junior high when I suggested God wouldn’t mind if I wore dress pants to church. (Apparently, God tolerated dress pants better if the person in question was on the Honor Roll at school.That’s part of the “Mysterious Ways” He works, I guess.)

They sat in the overstuffed living room, holding their Bibles and small notebooks with their prayer list. The kitchen was where I wanted to be, near the table brimming with pies and fruit punch, chicken salad sandwiches and potato salad, but no. That was for after prayer meeting.  For the first hour, sitting piously in the livingroom was required, even by slightly squirmy children. If I’d been allowed to bring a book, Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys and I could have weathered the hour quite well, but somehow, leafing through the King James version of anything didn’t catch my imagination quite the same way. All these ladies did was talk, then cluck and awwwww in sympathy, then talk some more. Every so often, there would be some silence followed by a jarring “Amen,” then back to talking.

There might be a tale of someone who had something very something exciting happening, a promotion or new baby. Or they might tell about somebody’s child who was struggling in school, or someone who was facing temptation–but it wasn’t gossip, of course. They had to discuss it to find out who needs prayer. Names and situations flew, intermixed with exhorting God to do something about so-and-so’s liver condition or their neighbor’s crabgrass–literal or metaphorical.

Do women’s prayer groups exist anymore? My observation suggests not, especially as the community social/spiritual outlet that Grandma’s meeting was. In fact, the women’s-only groups of the churches I know suffer from a distinct lack of participation.  Life has changed, and we all have other obligations. Plus, prayer meeting… It sounds a little bit, well…old-fashioned. Heaven forbid that we be old-fashioned!

I don’t think the “prayer meeting” experience has declined, though–just the opposite, in fact. As I go through my list of female friends, almost every one of them is in a book club. Some of them, more than one book club. I’m not in a book club, and I had an odd conversation with someone recently who speculated that I didn’t really like to read that much because I’m not gathering with other women for a group discussion of a selected title.

That conversation amused me. I’m an English teacher. Reading isn’t just my hobby, it’s my profession–and possibly my religion. Yet in this day and age, the fact that I’m not on speed dial looking for a book club to join apparently leads makes it reasonable to question whether I am much of a reader at all.

Of course I’m a reader. At any given moment, I have Shakespeare, the complete works of Emerson, most of Thoreau’s writings, and the complete poems of Longfellow with me. I have Stephen King, Harry Dresden and Alastair Crowley,  the Bible and Richard Foster’s works, too, toted around on my Kindle, available every time I have a moment. I do read, voraciously, spanning classics to best-sellers, fiction, poetry and drama to non-fiction and serious academic research papers; I just don’t belong to a book club.

Women in my generation and younger have opted for the book club paradigm instead of the prayer meeting. We are socializing in a structured manner, giving us an excuse to get out of the house all under the guise of  “doing something important.”  Book clubs are still the same source of gossip that prayer meetings were. They’re the same source of social interaction and peer group bonding. In fact, I know of book clubs that throw social events and sponsored educational events, huge affairs with major authors attending. It’s the prayer meeting/women’s circle vibe all over again, just light on the Jesus–except some church-based books clubs, probably.

Is this a bad thing? No. It’s just the thing. Neither good nor bad, but the way society is now. One notable difference: prayer meetings tended to be organized by churches, there was a sense of commitment to an organization bigger than the prayer meeting. Book clubs are generated on an individual basis often by friends, neighborhoods, or even online–there’s often no overseeing organizations such as church. No answering to a minister, priest, or principal. It’s a grassroots organization.

As I think about this, I remember how my sister would get the best gossip from my Grandma by earnestly asking, “Grandma, who do I need to be praying for in the family?” She found out things none of us knew because Grandma was so touched by her interest in praying for the family. Of course, I’m not suggesting her need for updated prayer was less than sincere–that would be heresy. Or at least a venial sin…if we were Catholic. However, it was always interesting to hear what she found out. I suspect that now, the day after book club meetings, the families of the book clubber are regaled with as many tidbits of gossip and information as my sister got by pumping—no, asking–Grandma for her prayer concerns.

(***and why is this titled “The Church of Jodi Picoult?” She’s an author who is a staple of many book clubs. Evidence that I don’t belong in book clubs is my fatwa against her since she wrote the cheesy, lazy ending in My Sister’s Keeper.)

Why You Might Not Want To Be In Sunday School With Me

We were talking about the Apostle Paul traveling around doing his apostle thing when this conversation took place (recreated as well as I can):

Man: Well, I see the rules that Paul set forth and wonder why we’re not following them better.

Teacher gets a gleam in her eye and turns to me.

Teacher: Jeannine, do you have any ideas about that?

I look at her, deciding whether to nod, smile and claim ignorance.

Me: As far as I’m concerned, one Jesus card  beats a hand full of Pauls.

Man: (looking confused) I don’t know what you mean.

Me: I mean Paul was as much a Disciple as Pete Best was a Beatle.

I stand by that position, but it took a while to explain what I meant to him.




Poem, Poem, Who’s Got the Poem?

I started this month with the best of intentions: everyday, write a poem and post it on facebook. A worthy goal, and the type of challenge I normally relish.

Crash and burn this time. Publicly. This is my response to the questions about where the “Roses are red, violets are blue” has disappeared to.

The last year–fourteen months, if I’m really willing to dig into Dr. Freud-land–has been tough. I’ve made decisions that hurt people I cared about; I’ve been in situations that have shaken my image of who and what I am. I’ve experienced loss of several varieties, and I have found that my normally teflon-pysche is scratched and dull, and that when the 3 am voices come taunting, I’m as vulnerable as a 12 year old. I’ve let people down, and I’ve caused people to worry, not just about situations, but about me.

I am not as good at glib and glitter as I used to be.  My shadows–Sardonic and Clever–are hiding. I don’t know if they’ll ever return, but I’ll admit I miss them. I guess I thought that I could summon them to write poetry, stroking them till words purred out of my pencil…no. The words that came have been honest, and searching, and raw.

I hate being exposed. My idea of an insult is to call someone a “Care Bear,” and airing the patchwork threads of my soul in the tepid breezes of facebook–I can’t do that.

So here’s my new challenge: I’m going to write, whatever words I can wrench from my pencil. Any that are worthy, I’ll share. Maybe.


“My most significant relationship is with my phone.” Yes,that sentence did slide out of my mouth Thursday, hours before I learned Steve Jobs died. And since my twitter feed exploded with tweets about his death, instead of analyzing how pathetic my relationship with my phone is, I’m considering my relationship with technology in general.

The first personal computer I used was an early Mac. As a grad student, I was the editor of a journal called “Perspectives,” which featured reviews of new children’s and YA books with whole-language approaches for teachers. I got the gig because of my writing and literature skills, but the first time I used the Mac, I figured out how to copy and paste–a skill that the professor who sponsored the journal had been unable to master in the three weeks he had owned the computer. That was my first hint that I “get” technology.

So even though I own almost no Apple products, Jobs was important in my daily life. MacWrite–the early word processor on the Mac I used–changed my writing process entirely; the “prewriting/drafting/editing” paradigm that I had to teach my students was obsolete by the time I started teaching…at least for people who had the ability to use a word processor. Writing was, and is, a more fluid, organic process, and the “steps” make no sense when you’re doing them all simultaneously.

As I remember it, when Windows was finally invented, I was thrilled because it meant my school could afford “fake Mac” type computers (since Macs were well beyond our means). Jobs’ and Apple’s invention of the iPod spurred a whole industry to catch up by creating mp3 players, then the iPhone again pushed innovators to try to re-imagine what phones could do. And the iPad, as ridiculed as it was when it was announced–well, the whole tablet industry uses the iPad as the product to beat.

Jobs was not essentially a technician. Many people invent or design amazing things…that no one uses. Before the iPod, few people were wandering around thinking that what they really needed was a way to stuff their entire CD collection in their pocket. Before the iPhone, no one was sad that they didn’t have a phone that could surf the net or answer email from. My students don’t understand that; they’ve had access since they were born. The world they know is radically different than the world that their 30 year old teachers came into, and a whole sci-fi novel away from what I was born into. Steve Jobs’ vision–and marketing team–were a major part of our society’s transformation.

I own a Windows-based PC, and my Android phone is rarely more than an arm’s reach away. For reading ebooks, I have a Kindle, not an iPad, and my personal mp3 player is from Creative Labs, not Apple. But my tech usage is a key part of my identity, so I wonder who the next Steve Jobs will be–because there will be another innovator. Everything that can be invented hasn’t been, yet. Somewhere, in a garage right now, there is a kid tinkering with code, surrounded by soldering tools and random technological parts, thinking, “ok, this time it has to work.”

And that’s how Steve Jobs will live on.