Crashing through the Snow

Few things are as visibly expressive of joy as a dog bounding excitedly through deep snow. Except, possibly, a whole bunch of dogs, plus a whole cadre of little kids, leaping, tunneling, floundering, grinning, and generally exploding their way through the same drifts.
Digital illustration: Snowflake

The problem with being an adult human is that we become so conscious of our creakiness and increasingly inflexible bodies, so obsessed with the dangers of having an infarction while shoveling or being speared in the forehead by a forty-pound icicle from the eaves, so hung up on our supposed decorum and dignity, that we stop risking not only true dangers but the possibility of gleefully tipping arse-over-teakettle into a billowing heap of powdery snow. It’s really too bad, because an occasional tumble from the pedestals we prop ourselves on, a momentary reminder of our own foolish frailty, and a smart whack on the overly fixed sense of reality is well worth a little bruising on ego and elbow. It might just teach us a renewed appreciation for the beauties of snow and nature. Why, if one were to be exceedingly incautious in the event, it might even turn out to be fun.

Things I Used to Know

In olden times, when I was young and Apatosaurs snacked on the treetops, I knew stuff. I’ve forgotten more since then than most sentient beings learn in a lifetime, although in fairness to them and to my own addled and limited brain capacity, much of that was only memorized and not really understood or applied. And what little I have learned or known has mostly long since been reduced to dribbles and scribbles and other forms of rubble.

digital illustrationI once knew how to ice skate and roller skate. Not particularly well, mind, but I could stay upright and toddle around a rink or lake without breaking ice or ankles, which for a person of limited grace and less skill is good enough. I could ride a bike, row a boat and climb a tree. I read books intended to make me smarter and ones intended only to amuse me, and a fair bunch that had the possibility of doing both simultaneously. I sang in every section of a choir that would let me in, played the piano poorly but enthusiastically, and learned about four chords on the guitar from Dad.

Much of this is gone, forgotten or so rusty that it would be somewhere between horrifying and laughable, or possibly both, if I were to try my hand at any of it now. And I’m not proud of that. But I’m not too worried about it, either, nor am I ashamed. I’m probably not all that different from most people when it comes to such things. I wouldn’t mind, though, if the opportunity arose to revisit any of those things and I discovered that (a) it’s true what they say about bike riding coming right back as though I’d never left off the practice, and (b) everything else I’d ever once loved doing would come back as easily as zipping around on a long-neglected bike. Before all the rest of me freezes over, as it were.

I also used to know how to leave the house without much thought of what lay outside its doors or worry over what I was to avoid and/or accomplish before returning to its safety. I had a firm grasp of many, many things that didn’t matter in the slightest in keeping the earth rotating properly or making my part of consumerism fully sustainable, let alone in achieving and maintaining world peace. As a supposed grownup, I learned to worry and fuss a great deal over that sort of stuff, even (or especially) when I knew full well I hadn’t any hope of challenging my born impotence in these matters.

But one thing I have learned as an adult that is remarkably useful–assuming I can keep it in mind, an increasingly slippery endeavor as I age–is that no individual human ever did really have any control over anything of this great importance. Occasionally, one of our kind manages to break through the barriers or even simply to fall into a solution by being in the right-or-wrong place at the right-or-wrong moment, but most of us are not able, alone, to learn or do anything much more complicated and meaningful than reading or singing or ice skating. And most wonderful of all, I’ve learned that that’s okay. It’s important to care, and to do and be the best that I can, but it may be equally needful that I grow wise enough to stop banging my head against any brick wall that practice has taught me will never actually budge and, yes, be content that I made the effort, not carry around pointless guilt that I’m not killing myself with further useless striving and angst.

As much as I loved ice skating when I was young and owned skates, and lived near a park where I could use them in winter, I don’t feel terribly cheated that decades later I’m fairly certain I couldn’t even remember how to skate. I’m happy to hang up those old blades and let someone newer and nimbler learn how to ice skate, and finally to get old enough to forget it too, in turn. The world itself will probably continue turning, with or without us.digital illustration

Everyone should Retire Early

The creaky proverb ‘Early to bed, early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise’ has irritated many a dedicated night-owl, and presumably even more so, many a person who was committed to belief in the axiom and assiduously followed its recommendation while continuing to fail to become healthy, wealthy and/or wise. This precept, of course, is only one of a great many that would seem to promise the same sorts of desirable results to its practitioners. And also, of course, only one of as many that consistently fail to deliver on the promise.

Since on average, life rarely puts anyone directly on the path to success and a wonderful, comfortable retirement enjoying it–and the aforementioned life coaching doesn’t generally nudge anyone toward it either–I would think it best to choose and pursue, each of us, our own different paths as needed to try to achieve those ends. I’m not entirely sure that I see it as particularly useful to accept the proposed and codified definition of the desirable kind of aging and retirement anyway. How on earth could (or should) there really be a one-size-fits-all solution to the puzzle of what every unique human wants or should want as life goals?

The only thing I do think makes sense as a somewhat universal goal is to be as well as one can manage to be, and be doing what one loves, not more, not less. For some, that might well mean employment; there really are humans who love their jobs. For many, it would mean either finding work that is lovable or finding ways to get by without having a standard sort of job. In any case, whether it’s called Retirement or Finding Your Bliss or just plain means discovering what makes one happy and managing to capture it somehow, I like to think that doing such things at a particular time in one’s life or in a certain way is pointless and that the best solution is to do what one loves as soon and as constantly as one can possibly do. Retire at age six? Why not, really? If by retirement we mean doing and being exactly what we’re meant to be and loving it, that seems like exactly the right thing to do.

Go ahead. Put me out to pasture.graphite drawing

The Power of Being Well Behaved

When I was teaching, I thought it useful to devote a bit of the informational materials I handed out at the beginning of every term to basic issues of classroom decorum. The idea that so-called common courtesy has to be taught, not just to children but to all ages, is no less ridiculous than understanding constant the need for training and refreshing what is called common knowledge or common sense. Generations have passed since people saw a need to comment on or complain about the uncommonness of all of these virtues.

More significantly, as a teacher I knew that if I didn’t encourage, if not demand, attention to such virtues in my classroom there was little hope of any other sort of learning happening in there. I’m old-fashioned that way. The silly thing is probably that it was only after leaving teaching that I thought very clearly about how much these attitudes mattered in any and every kind of cooperative venture, not only in the classroom but in the boardroom, the living room, and certainly in the places where politics, religion, health care, social activities and civic progress are in progress. At least, if we want actual progress to occur.

And that’s how my two cents came out as a personalized set of ten ‘commandments’. Ah, well. I’m kind of a megalomaniac, and I did feel the need to keep my eyes on what was happening.pen & ink

THE BIG OL’ HOW-TO LIST

for getting along with Kathryn

I   Come to class unless you are dead.

II   Show up on time. Lectures don’t always begin on the dot of the class-starting time, but if a deadline is stated as “beginning of class, 18 March” and you  arrive one minute late, technically I can tell you that you missed the deadline and so your project is rejected. Flunked. That’s harsh. But trust me, it’s fair. Besides, it’s a safe bet that if the lecture does start on time and you miss part of it, I’m not going to be terribly enthusiastic about repeating myself and your classmates who have just heard the stuff will definitely not be amused to have it reiterated. Be in place, cell phone and watch alarms and headsets off and fully participating in class, and we’ll all get along famously. Hurray for good manners!

III   Bring all assigned materials and have them in ready-to-use position when class starts. Written tests, especially pop quizzes, are uncommon in my classes (they do exist), but notes and written critiques can be required at any time. Be ready. Write down everything, and date it. Even if I don’t say you have to. Then you have documentation of what I told you (and when) if I should change plans inexplicably or you have a question. Also, it makes you look attentive and enthusiastic whether you are or not.

IV   Flattery will get you places. Forget that baloney about it getting you nowhere. You lose nothing by Making Nice with people and attempting to impress them with your admirable and outstanding qualities; they might even enjoy buying into the whole idea. It’s an excellent tool for impressing others, this making them think you find them worthwhile and fabulous. Conversely, the quickest way to turn a potential ally into a pain in the neck is to belittle, ignore, challenge the primacy of, argue with or antagonize her. Diplomacy and tact mean that you can frankly say, “I disagree,” or “what do you think of _____,” and get a respectful hearing. We are only human (if we’re lucky).

V   By the way, if your death prevents your attending class, call and let me know in advance.

VI   If you have big plans, talk to me. It’s possible that your previous experience with and knowledge of this topic mean you can quickly “test out” of the class requirements and go forward into a more challenging and personally fulfilling independent project. If so, let’s work together to get maximum use out of your time and energies.

VII   If you feel out of your depth, it’s okay to swim over to the shallow end and meet with me privately by appointment. Probably all you need is a bit of individual coaching beyond what’s available or comfortable in class time. Of course, if you’ll kindly risk asking the question in class, there are always others who benefit by having their identical question answered, and probably your learning it together will make it simpler.

VIII   Ignorance shouldn’t embarrass you. Holding on to ignorance should. You’re in class, presumably,because you don’t know Everything yet, same as the rest of us.  So ask your “stupid question,” please. Real stupidity is avoiding or refusing to try or doing something wrong because fear of lowering yourself prevented your asking the question that would’ve resolved the problem.

IX   Be patient. Spend the time. Attempt the highest levels of craftsmanship and professionalism. Pay attention to the tiniest detail.

X   Be bold and adventurous. Climb out of ruts. Seek a new perspective on the familiar and become familiar with the alien. Look for connections. Expect the infinite.