September

For nearly twenty-five years I spent the month of August preparing for a new school year. I commuted back and forth to school. I attended professional development workshops and meetings; some less relevant than others. I decorated my classroom and later my library to welcome students back. I collected certificates from the state-mandated online courses about blood borne pathogens, sexual harassment, and a myriad of other topics repeated exactly the same every single year. Every August I studied a new way of doing old things because every year the wheel is re-invented. I learned the expectations of the school principal, the district, and the state; I adjusted accordingly.

Students returned and we all fell into a routine that was unique for that particular year. I learned my students’ names, their strengths and weaknesses and idiosyncrasies. And they got to know me too. 

A TEACHER’S YEAR

The life of an educator cycles through the year in a way that is unique compared to other professions. Each season or month holds its own, distinct expression. From August to June, time is measured by holidays and test dates. Valentine Parties and Field Days. Cafeteria Thanksgiving and book fairs. Pep rallys and football games. Homecoming and Prom. 

SEPTEMBER SLOWLY

September is a completely different experience when you don’t work in a school. It feels slower than it used to be. When September comes, teachers and students are so involved in activities that it’s hard to notice the days growing shorter. It’s still hot here in Texas, but the mornings and afternoons are cooler than before. There is a breeze and the air has a different scent. Now that I am no longer part of the education system, I get to slow down and notice the gradual and quiet change that occurs this time of year. It’s nice. 

MINDFULNESS

Now I get to immerse all of my senses in the changes around me. I get to spend more time outside. For the first time, I see that September is a wonderful month. It’s not just being away from school culture that makes me so aware, but also because I have learned to live in the moment, to be mindful of the here and now rather than constantly planning what comes next. This is a fantastic way to live. It’s what we strive for. 

FALL MINDSET

In September birds behave differently, squirrels are busier, different kinds of flowers bloom. People act differently too. Although the weather still says summer, people display pumpkins on their front porches, suffer the heat in pants and sweaters and drink pumpkin lattes. They fall into an autumn mindset, looking ahead to Halloween, Thanksgiving and beyond. Not me; I squeeze out as much summertime as I possibly can. 

Teaching is a rewarding profession. For many years it was just right for me. I feel fortunate, however, to explore new ways to live, to see things from another perspective, to really stop and look around and watch the seasons change. I am lucky to have so many experiences. 

I left the school in December. Other retired teachers told me I wouldn’t feel retired from education until the beginning of the new school year; then it would hit me. That is true. I do not miss it. I loved what I did at the time, but no, I don’t miss it. Both things can be true. 

Happy Fall ya’ll. I think I’ll go for a swim!

Living With a Writer

Perhaps the person who should write an article with this title should be the person living with a writer rather than the writer. Since the writer is the one who writes, however, it gets to be written by the writer. If you, like my husband, live with a writer, here are some things you might want to know:

  • Patience. Just be patient, please. This is especially important if you don’t understand the creative process. 
  • Creativity is not an excuse; rather it’s a way of thinking that is different than the kind of thinking required for everyday existence. 
  • Know that your writer has to have the ability to think both ways, and they have to know when and how to move from left-brain to right-brain thinking. Sometimes this is really hard. Sometimes this causes them to be scatterbrained. 
  • Your writer requires both space and time. You know, “a room of one’s own and all that.” A place with a window that preferably has a nice view, for staring out. A place to pin notes of inspiration, ideas, writing advice, and and plans for writing. A place for books. A place that has multiple cups filled with every kind of pen, pencil, marker. Note paper of various sizes. Very likely your writer is an office supply nerd. I am.
  • Give them the time they need to write, to think, to read, research, to daydream. All of that is writing. 
  • Space also relates to sound. 
  • Encourage. The other week my husband after overhearing me tell writer friends that I had written 2,000 words in two hours, woke me up at 6:30 to tell me he had it figured out. He made coffee (like every morning) and excitedly told me that if I start writing at seven, I can have 2,000 words by nine. Who wouldn’t love a man like that! Such enthusiasm! 
  • Know that some days are more productive than others. Know that 2,000 or 5,000 or 100,000 words written does not mean 100,000 words closer to the end of a novel. Those words may not even make it into to the novel at all. 
  • Chances are, your writer regularly interacts with people you cannot see. They have conversations with these folks. They may or may not tell you about them. If they do, listen. I guarantee these people you cannot see, do some pretty insane things and their stories are fascinating! 
  • This is super important, if your writer is folding laundry, working a crossword, watering the plants or walking to the mailbox, they are very likely working out an idea in their head. When that is the case, they should tell you so; please respect this. 
  • Writers are always writing. Period. Always. 
  • Whatever you do, please never tell your writer what they should write. Please. They know what they are doing. If you have a writing idea, write it yourself.
  • Writing is an integral part of your writers life. They should be living holistically with their writing, so that everything they do is related to writing. If that is not the case, know that they are struggling to make it so. Support that.
  • There is an amazing world inside your writer’s head. If you are patient and supportive, it will be revealed to you in its final glory. 

These are just a few thoughts that have come to me. If you are a writer, please feel free to add to this list. I am fortunate that I live with a person who, while he may not always “get” it, he always supports and encourages me. 

Determined Fig

Sometimes my husband goes a little crazy purchasing plants for our yard. He can be a bit over-zealous shopping at the nursery. When he brings plants home, he has a habit of setting them at the side of the house, between our house and the neighbor’s privacy fence. Sometimes he forgets about them. 

Several years ago, he bought a small fig tree. The tree was maybe a foot tall, and came in a plastic disposable planter. You know the kind. He set it by the fence and left it there. This fig tree was ignored. It was not watered. That is to say, we did not water it; we did nothing to care for it. It sat in its little pot and waited.

It waited until it became tired of waiting and finally took responsibility for its own well-being. The fig tree began to grow. The roots, determined and strong, broke through the plastic planter bottom and dug into the earth beneath. The fig tree branched out reaching for the sun, its leaves wide and green and healthy. It grew against the fence, such was its strength, it nearly knocked the fence over. Before that could happen, because we were not interested in building a new fence, my husband chopped down the tree, right down to the plastic pot.

Guess what: it grew back. Again, right through the pot. Not only did it grow back, but it withstood our infamous winter storm that took so many other trees and plants in our yard. Once again, our determined fig grows thick and healthy and strong. Nothing can stop this tree! It wants to live. The pot still encircles it.

Over the years I have had to restart my writing life over and over again. I have always been a writer. In my head. Due to a myriad of circumstances, I have gone through periods of not writing, but I never considered myself to be anything other than a writer. The thing is, a writer is always writing even if it’s just in our heads. It’s what we do. It’s a way of viewing the world. My writing life has been “chopped down” in so many ways. Earning a living, raising a child, caring for family—all legitimate and positive reasons for not writing. I embrace all of those things, don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t trade my life experiences for the world. In fact, without them there would be nothing to write about.

The biggest “chop down” for any writer I think, is getting past the events in life that serve as triggers. Some stuff is really hard to write about and those are the things that most need to be written down. The hard stuff. So often, I used to get to the hard stuff and just quit. Going deep is scary. Downright frightening. But when you push through, like the fig tree, you grow. You push those roots down and reach for the sky, you write through the hard stuff and suddenly you find you have become a better person but you have also produced better writing! Those things go hand-in-hand. 

Sometimes we all have to be like that fig tree and soldier through. Life will cut you down. No one is going to water you. You’ve got to do it yourself. To grow you’ve got to do your own hard work.

Where We Stand Now

Even the most cynical of us thought it would be over by now; didn’t we? And yet, here we are.  I have to think it through: it began in earnest in March of 2020, isn’t that right? This is September 2021. Not only are we still in it, but it seems it’s really bad again.

MASKS

When the state of Texas unmasked, I continued to wear mine in public and still do. It’s annoying. A lot of things that are good for us are annoying. No big deal. It’s a big deal to be sick, to suffer, to find yourself alone in a hospital. I don’t intend for any of that to happen to me or to any of my loved ones. Death does not scare me; pain and suffering terrify me. I wear my mask.

CHANGES

The world has changed so much since the Covid outbreak. There have been big changes on a global scale and also on a personal scale. My life is completely different today than it was a year ago. Oddly, for the better. I am extremely fortunate; for many the changes have been and are catastrophic. If you were already living from one paycheck to the next (or worse), the pandemic pushed you down even farther on the socio-economic scale. I don’t think it’s supposed to work that way, but this pandemic has done many things including exposing our flaws as a society. We have a lot of work to do.

BE SAFE

At our house, we will do our best over the upcoming months. Already, we don’t leave the house much and when we do, we are as careful as we can be; we, of course, are vaccinated, we mask in public, hand sanitizer after filling the car with gas, so much handwashing. I don’t hug as much as I used to.

TRAVEL

A few weeks ago, we flew for the first time since before the lockdown. We were apprehensive about it and wouldn’t be doing it at all if it weren’t for a very important event: my daughter’s wedding, something I would not miss for the world. While traveling we distanced ourselves from others as much as we possibly could. We wore our masks. I always shower and change clothes first thing when I leave an airport. The airports were crowded. The planes were filled to capacity. The airline was not cleaning the planes between flights.

When we got there, we smiled and celebrated and danced for the happy event! It was worth it!

GOD BLESS US ALL

The wedding and the trip are over now, and we are home. We will wait and see. School has started. There doesn’t seem to be anything in place this time around to keep students and teachers safe. Last year, safety protocols were “in name only,” at least where I am, but this year it seems the powers-that-be are just pretending none of this is happening. My heart goes out to all the teachers, students and parents who will be at risk. I am grateful to no longer be a part of the fiasco that is public education right now.

I can’t believe more is not being done. What will it take? How many people will die and suffer? At what percentage of death does empathy set in for a society? For our society?